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Unmarried Family Finances

Relationship breakdown can be a life-altering and stressful experience, especially when there are properties or children involved. This is the case whether or not you are married, although the law governing married and unmarried families is vastly different.

The myth of "common law marriage"

The phrase “common law spouse” is often used yet is a total myth and in no way reflects the true legal standing of a cohabiting couple. In truth, a couple who live together but are not married do not automatically have financial claims against the other as spouses do; the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 makes no provision for unmarried partners. This can result in a feeling of vulnerability with lots of unknowns should the relationship end, so it is helpful to find out where you stand as early as possible.

What will happen to our property?

The legal framework for dealing with property and unmarried relationship breakdown comes from the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TLATA 1996) and from case law.

The presumption with a property held in joint names, unless there is a document stating otherwise, is that you hold in equal shares. The onus is on the person trying to prove any different.

If a property is held in your partner's sole name there is no presumption that you will be entitled to a share in the equity, regardless of how long you've lived together. It will be up to you to prove that a trust exists.

This area of law is complex and we recommend that you seek independent advice according to your own circumstances. Our experienced team is on hand to assist. Please contact Michaela Sargeant, complete our online enquiry form or call our offices on 01444 235232.

What do I need to know about child maintenance?

In the majority of cases the Child Maintenance Service has jurisdiction to assess the rate payable. The reasonable rate of maintenance to pay would be the rate that is produced by the CMS calculator. The court has jurisdiction to assess child maintenance only in limited circumstances, set out in s8 Child Support Act 1991. You can find out more details by looking at the Act itself or by speaking to one of our team.

Can I apply for financial orders for the children?

Under Schedule 1 Children Act 1989 applications can be made for:-

  • Unsecured or secured periodical payments (on behalf of the child or for the child himself)
  • Lump sums (on behalf of the child or for the child himself)
  • Settlement of property (for the child)
  • Transfer of property (on behalf of the child or for the child himself)

Schedule 1 can also be used where the CMS does not have jurisdiction, such as when the non-resident parent lives abroad.

We understand that each case has different circumstances and therefore different priorities so it is important to receive accurate advice about the available approaches, options and timings in these areas of law.

Should we get a Cohabitation Agreement?

You can make a Cohabitation Agreement either before you move in together or during the cohabitation. This may be the way to give you both some protection and peace of mind when entering into a cohabiting relationship. Please see our Written Agreements page for further details.

This page is intended for basic information purposes only and should not be considered substitute for obtaining your own independent legal advice. Please contact Michaela Sargeant.

Our Unmarried Family Finances Team

Stephanie Dew

Consultant Solicitor

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