10/12/18Do Unmarried Couples Have Legal Rights?

The legal rights of unmarried couples are the cause of much confusion. In the event of a relationship breakdown, many unmarried partners are of the view that they are entitled to 50% of any assets held by their other half. Unfortunately, UK family law affords you no such luxury. So, what are your legal rights, if any?

As a Leicester family lawyer, I’ve heard it all when it comes to what unmarried partners think their legal rights are following a relationship breakdown. However, much of what these couples think or are told – usually by friends and family – has no legal basis whatsoever.

With that in mind, I’ve put together a three-part blog series outlining the legal rights of unmarried couples, tackling three key issues that are commonly fought over following a relationship breakdown including:

  • Finances (Part 1)
  • Children (Part 2)
  • Property (Part 3)

The Misconception of Unmarried Couples and Finances

Many of the people I’ve represented over the years – who have split from a long-term partner they have been with for 10, 15 or even 20 years – see themselves as ‘married,’ which leads them to believe that they have a legal right to a share of their partner’s finances by virtue of being a ‘common law’ wife or husband.

Unfortunately for cohabiting couples, in the eyes of the UK legal system, there is no such thing as ‘common law marriage.’ This often proves to be a rude awakening for many people, and could potentially leave them in a difficult spot financially. That said, it’s important to understand your rights fully when seeking to instruct a Leicester family lawyer.

The Truth About Finances and the Legal Rights of Unmarried Couples

There’s a lot said about finances and the legal rights of unmarried couples, but much of it is hearsay. The truth is, the law treats cohabiting couples as two separate individuals. As a result, it’s unlikely that you will have any financial claim against your partner by virtue of being a ‘common law spouse.’

All assets, including bank accounts, savings and investments, remain in the ownership of those named as the holder. If financial assets are held in joint names, i.e. a joint bank account, assets will typically be divided equally, unless irrefutable evidence is provided that other financial arrangements have been agreed.

Finances and Children

Where children are affected by a relationship breakdown of a cohabiting couple, the parent with whom the children will live can claim child support maintenance from the parent not living with the children.

However, unlike a married couple, you cannot usually claim continuous financial maintenance from a partner in the same way that a married person may be able to claim spousal maintenance. It is always best to try and come to an agreement with your partner over financial provisions for your children.

The courts have limited powers to force a parent from an unmarried relationship to pay child maintenance. While you can instruct the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to deal with a non-payment issue, please be aware that they now charge fees on a continuing basis.

Claire Holland, Holland Family LawClaire Holland is a family and divorce lawyer at Holland Family Law.

She specialises in providing legal advice for all areas of Family Law to include divorce, separation, finances and children.

You can call Claire on 0116 436 2170 or email her at claire@hollandfamilylaw.co.uk.

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