If you aren’t married or in a civil partnership, you don’t have an automatic right to your partner’s finances or assets following the breakdown of the relationship.
It’s usual for couples to move in together, and even to have children before they decide whether or not to get wed. However, in and amongst the emotion following a cohabiting relationship breakdown, there is often confusion as to what the parties are entitled to.
What happens with the family home can be a huge concern, especially if one party moved into a home owned by the other. If your partner owns the property, you may have no right to remain there, and will usually have no claim against any equity unless you can demonstrate you have a beneficial interest in the property. This is often difficult to establish and typically requires the intervention of the court. If there are children involved, this does usually allow for more options, for example, occupation orders, but these do not necessarily provide financial provision to enable rehousing.
If one partner is financially dependent on the other, there is no legal basis for them to continue to support them financially. Unlike their married counterparts, cohabiting couples do not have any right to maintenance unless it is in respect of children. In the case of the latter, those with whom the child lives can apply for financial support from their ex but this is purely for the benefit of the child. It is important to note though that this type of order cannot be made against a same sex partner where there is no civil partnership or biological connection.
In respect of other assets, the general rule is that anything purchased prior to the relationship remains the property of the purchaser, but anything purchased during the relationship from a joint account is likely to be considered a joint asset. It should be noted that there is no automatic right to a partner’s pension or life insurance, unlike that of a spouse or civil partner.
There is hope for the future for those who don’t wish to marry or enter into a civil partnership because the Cohabitation Bill is in the pipeline. However, there is no estimate as to when this will become law, and I expect it will not be for several years. I would therefore recommend entering into a cohabitation agreement. As you can see from the above, it can become complicated when unmarried couples separate. No one starts a relationship with the expectation it will end, but it is better to have a plan that isn’t used, than to not have one at all. A cohabitation agreement allows you to detail how you would wish for your children, property and finances to be resolved should you separate. Making what is already a difficult time, easier.
Emma Lees is a Solicitor in our Family team. If you need advice on any of the above, call us on 01423 543 108.