How do assets get divided when I am unmarried?

In recent years it has become popular for couples to live together for a long period without marrying. Additionally, more and more couples reside together, buy properties together and have children together without marrying. But what happens when the relationship breaks down? What rights do unmarried couples have?

When a couple is married, there are rules as to how the assets in the marriage are to be divided between the couple. The courts take the stance that the assets acquired during the marriage are to be divided between the spouses in consideration of the financial needs of each party and the children.

In contrast, unmarried couples don’t have the same legal rights and protections afforded to them as married couples do or those in a civil partnership.

Unmarried couples with children

If an unmarried couple has children together, then a parent can pursue a claim under the Schedule 1 Children Act 1989 to obtain a court order to benefit the children. A parent can seek to obtain an order from the courts whereby the economically stronger parent has to pay periodical payments, a lump sum, or agree on a settlement of property or a transfer of property.

Additionally, a parent can apply to the Child Maintenance Service for child maintenance.

How do cohabitees divide property?

Unmarried couples will ordinarily divide any assets held jointly under their legal ownership.

We own our property together – what do I do?

You should first check how the property is legally owned. A property can be owned as tenants in common or joint tenants.

If the property is owned by both of you, then you both have a right to remain in the property following a breakdown of your relationship.

If the property is owned as joint tenants, this means that the couple equally owns the entire property together.

If a cohabiting couple who own a property as joint tenants decide to separate, then the property will usually be divided equally between the parties. One party can buy out the other party’s interest in the property. Alternatively, the property can be sold, and the parties can divide the net proceeds of the sale equally.

If the property is owned as tenants in common, this means that each party holds a specific and separate share of the property. Tenants in common can own the property with equal shares or unequal shares and this depends on what was upon when purchasing the property. When an unmarried couple who own a property as tenants in common decide to separate, the property will usually be divided under their share of the legal ownership.

What if one cohabitee owns the property?

Where a property is owned solely by one cohabitee, only the owner has the right to remain in the property following the breakdown of the relationship. Therefore, if you moved into a property owned by your partner, the owner will retain their control over the property.

If the other cohabitant wishes to seek a share of the owner’s property, they can only do this if they can establish a beneficial interest in the property. In some cases, you can argue that you have contributed financially to the owner’s property (by contributing to mortgage payments or renovations). This can be a complex area of law and you should consult a solicitor about your options.

Similarly, if the property is only owned by one cohabitant, the other cohabitant will have no right to apply for any financial support from their former partner for themselves.

My ex-partner won’t leave my house – what do I do?

Your options depend on how the property is owned. If you and your ex-partner both own the property, you should speak to a solicitor about your options.

If your partner is subjecting you to any abuse, you may wish to obtain an injunction against them to protect you and your children.

If you are at immediate risk, you should contact the police urgently.

What happens to the children?

Parents are expected to agree between themselves about whom the children should live with. However, in practice, this can be difficult.

If you are unable to reach an agreement, you may find it beneficial to engage in mediation with your children’s other parents. If mediation is unsuccessful, an application can be made to the court to determine child arrangements.

What is a Cohabitation Agreement?

The lack of definitive legal provision for unmarried couples means that there is a lot of uncertainty regarding how assets will be divided upon the separation of unmarried couples. As such, it is useful for unmarried couples that live together and own assets together to set out their financial rights and obligations from the outset. This can be done in the form of a written agreement known as a Cohabitation Agreement.

A Cohabitation Agreement is an agreement for unmarried couples that sets out who owns what asset and in what proportion. It details how you will split your property, belongings, and other assets if the relationship breaks down.

Additionally, a Cohabitation Agreement can be used to clarify how cohabiting couples will manage their day-to-day finances whilst they are together.

Shall I enter into a Cohabitation Agreement?

It is a beneficial and smart decision to obtain a Cohabitation Agreement. It allows both parties to the agreement to be able to protect themselves throughout the relationship and after the breakdown of a relationship.

When unmarried couples separate, a multitude of issues can arise. Disputes can occur over property, the ownership of assets, and arrangements for children. We can assist you in all aspects of cohabitation.

If you are going through a separation, getting the help of an experienced family law solicitor is key. Specters Solicitors can help with seperation cases with our experienced team. Get in touch today by filling out an enquiry form or by calling 0300 303 3629.