What are the property rights for unmarried couples?

Setting up home with a new partner can be and should be a very exciting time. You have your whole future to look forward to, maybe starting a family, or enjoying a new relationship later in life. No one wants to think about the consequences of what would happen if that relationship broke down.

However, what a lot of people do not realise is that the law relating to the relationship breakdown of an unmarried couple is entirely different to the law applied when a marriage breaks down.  There is no such thing as the “common law wife”. 

The property rights of unmarried couples

This can have an impact on property rights. It is not unusual for a property to be purchased in one person’s name, for various reasons, although it was always intended to be a family home. Whereas this would not necessarily have a significant impact if a marriage broke down, for example, the home would be treated as matrimonial property and divided according to need regardless of whose name it was in, this is not the case in relation to unmarried couples.

Likewise, one partner may be moving into a property already owned by the other partner. What rights, if any would they have if the relationship broke down, or more importantly, what do the couple themselves want to happen if the relationship breaks down?

How a cohabitation agreement can help unmarried couples with their property rights

Having a cohabitation agreement drawn up at the appropriate time, for example when a new property is purchased or when one partner moves into the property of the other, would help to set out what should happen to the property if the relationship breaks down.

Such an agreement can be as flexible and as detailed as the parties would like, for example, it can also deal with how any other assets should be divided, separating out solely owned or jointly owned assets, or any assets acquired during the relationship. Should there be a dispute following a relationship breakdown, the cohabitation agreement would be the starting point to resolving the dispute and would hopefully avoid an application to court.

How our family solicitors can help

The family team at Moore Barlow have a wealth of experience in dealing with the issues arising from relationship breakdown, and other family matters, and would be more than happy to discuss your needs.