What rights do I have on cohabitation breakdown?

Cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as married couples when their relationship breaks down (there is no such thing as a “common law marriage”). In particular, they cannot ask the court for maintenance for themselves or to adjust ownership of property, in the same way as can be done in a financial settlement following divorce.

So what legal rights do cohabitees have?

The first thing to say is that cohabitees have similar rights to married couples in respect of arrangements for children and child maintenance. They can apply to a court for an order setting out the arrangements, such as with whom the children should live, and they can apply to the Child Maintenance Service for child support maintenance for the children.

If there are any children then the parent looking after them can also apply to the court for an order for financial provision for them. This provision can take various forms, but the most common type of order is one allowing the parent and child to occupy a property, such as the property where the parties lived together, until such time as the child grows up or ceases full-time education. Note that such an order will not have any bearing upon the ownership of the property. Accordingly, if the property belongs solely to the other parent, then it will revert to them when the order has run its term.

The general rule regarding property on cohabitation breakdown is that it will remain with whoever owns it. Accordingly if for example the house in which the parties lived is owned then what happens to it depends upon what the deeds say. Thus if the deeds say it is owned jointly in equal shares then each party will be entitled to half. On the other hand if the deeds say it belongs to just one of the parties, then that party will be entitled to the entire property. What the deeds say will be followed unless the other party can successfully show that they are entitled to a share, or a greater share, for example because there was an agreement to that effect. Such claims can be very difficult to prove.

If necessary a party claiming a share in a property can apply to a court for an order that the property be sold, so that they can realise that share.

The above is only a very brief summary of what can be a very complex area of law. If you require further details Family Law Café can help. To contact us click the Contact link above and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

Image: Law by Woody Hibbard, licensed under CC BY 2.0.