Relationship broken down? A guide for unmarried couples

Many unmarried couples are labouring under the misapprehension that they have same rights as married couples. Unfortunately, no such protection exists.  Some believe that they are common law husband/wives.  Lisa Ellis solicitor and head of the Family team at Donnelly & Elliott Solicitors says “despite the popular belief in common law marriage, there is no such thing – it is a myth”. 

This may be bad news for unmarried couples who are experiencing a relationship breakdown.  Lisa goes on to explain that “unmarried couples often find themselves in a vulnerable position when their relationship breaks down”.  To help those in this situation, Lisa sets out her guidance below.

If you get married then you acquire certain rights and protection. It goes back to the traditional marriage vow of “all my worldly goods, I thee endow”. However, if you are simply living together as a couple, you have no such protection – no matter that some relationships often last longer than marriages.

This means that if you are together and share a property and children, you may be put in a very vulnerable position when things go wrong.  When a relationship breaks down it is essential to obtain legal advice at the earliest opportunity.

Many believe that they will have accrued rights to their partner’s assets after being in a relationship for a certain amount of time. This is not the case. Regardless of the length of the relationship, you will not accrue any rights to your partner’s pension or any financial support such as maintenance. This would not be the case if you were married.

Also, if the family home is in your partner’s sole name, then this could put you in an extremely vulnerable position.  If the relationship breaks down you might not be entitled to a share of the property and worse still, left homeless. The law in relation to property is complicated.  If you are about to financially contribute to your partner’s property (or if you buy a property together) a professionally drawn agreement known as a ‘declaration of trust’ can protect your interest.

If you separate and children are involved you may require financial support from your former partner.  The law that applies to married couples does not apply to unmarried couples.  In these circumstances there is a complex set of rules and procedures that apply.  Get it wrong and both you and your children could lose out.  Getting legal advice in this instance is an absolute must!

If you are at the start of a relationship, obtaining legal advice when you move in with your partner will also help protect your legal position.  Whilst it might not seem like the most romantic prospect, your lawyer can assist in protecting your legal rights.  Some couples consider a ‘cohabitation agreement’ which sets out the terms for living together and for separation.  Should the worse happen, you will each know where you stand, taking some of the normal ‘sting’ out of a relationship breakdown.

Remember, unmarried couples do not have the same rights as married couples.  If your relationship has broken down you will need sound legal advice from a qualified and experienced solicitor.  Equally, if you are financially dependent on your partner, share a property with them or have children together then getting legal advice at the outset can give you (and all concerned) peace of mind.

At Donnelly & Elliott, our team of experienced family lawyers are on hand to guide you through this difficult area of law.  Please call 02392 505 500 today to arrange your consultation.

About the Author

Lisa Ellis is a Solicitor and head of the Family Department at Donnelly & Elliott Limited, Solicitors in Gosport.  She has over ten years’ experience in dealing with family

law matters.  Lisa is a member of Resolution which means that she always tries to work with clients to resolve matters in a constructive and cost effective way, reducing conflict where possible.   Where required, she is also able to take a robust approach on behalf of her clients should this be necessary.   Lisa and her team pride themselves in taking a pragmatic yet sensitive approach to dealing with her clients’ needs.