22 January, 2010
The myth of the Common Law Spouse still remains. This is worrying considering the increasing number of couples choosing to live together, but never marrying. The biggest misconception is that couples who have lived together for a number of years without getting married (cohabitants - see cohabitation agreements) have the same financial protection as married couples / civil partners when a relationship ends. This is not the case and unfortunately people often do not discover this until it is too late.
The legal protection offered to cohabitants is gravely different. There is no obligation on either individual to provide financial support and if the property is not in joint names, you could find yourself homeless.
It is imperative that you seek advice from a family law specialist as soon as the relationship breaks down. Of primary importance will be to ascertain if the former family home is registered with the Land Registry in joint names.
The background to the relationship, including financial contributions made and discussions regarding what interest would be acquired in the event of a separation will be very important. As a general rule, you may have a claim if you can demonstrate an express agreement, contribution towards the purchase price, common intention for a financial interest to be obtained or payment towards the mortgage.
Unfortunately furnishing the property, decoration, funding holidays, caring for the child, paying utility bills or paying for food shopping does not give rise to a claim.
Engaged couples do have additional statutory protection and therefore it is important that you inform your solicitor of your relationship status at the outset.
Parents may also make an application to remain in the family home under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 for the benefit of any natural child of the relationship. This may be especially helpful where the resident parent has no financial interest in the family home, but where the home is required for the child.
As can be seen from the above, the law relating to property claims following the breakdown of a relationship is very complicated and therefore the sooner legal advice is sought, the better.