Unmarried Couples - your rights

As the rights of Unmarried Couples are not as protected as they are for married couples it is always a good idea to consider entering into a contract with your partner to decide how money and property should be divided if you should separate. These are known as "Separation Deeds" or "Cohabitation Contracts" and can be drafted by a solicitor.

If you are not married you may still have to deal with financial issues after your separation because, for example, you have a property which you own jointly with your partner. If you and your partner are not able to decide what is to happen to any joint property then you can ask the court to decide.

You can apply for an order to sell the property and for the court to decide the value of your interest in the property. For example, you might want to argue that you should receive more of the sale proceeds because you paid the deposit or made a greater contribution to the purchase price, or paid part or all of the mortgage.

The court will have to look at the intention behind these payments, e.g. did you make the payments as a gift, a loan, or payment of rent, or for example, was it intended by you and your partner that you should have an interest in the property ?

If you are not a joint owner of the property you may still be able to claim an interest in the property if you can show you have contributed to the property in other ways. For example, by paying for improvements to the property, or if you paid the deposit or part of the purchase price. Or if you are paying money towards the mortgage repayments.

It is important to keep details of any payments you make as you will need to prove you have made these payments in order to establish your interest in the property. You might be able to argue that your partner promised you a share in the property. You will need to explain how and when this promise was made. Your argument will be stronger if you have a witness who was present when this promise was made. If you can prove this then the court may force your partner to keep that promise and grant you an interest in the property.

If you can show your partner made promises that you would have a share of the property and you relied on this and spent money on the property, the court may stop your partner from going back on his or her word.

The court can decide how much your stake in the property is worth. The court can make orders to restrict or exclude one partner from occupying the property. Or set conditions that the person remaining in the property pay all the bills and other expenses, or take over any responsibilities connected to the property.

The court can also order that partner to pay compensation to the partner who has to leave the home. The court can also order one partner to give up any payment or benefit connected to the property, for example rent.

If you cannot establish any interest in the property, but you have children, then you may be able to apply on the children's behalf for a share of the property. This application can be made under the Children Act 1989. Orders can be made against your partner. This includes orders to transfer the property from your partner to you as the parent who is caring for the child or children.

The property will be held by you for the benefit of the child / children or transferred to the child / children directly, this can include a transfer of a tenancy. (The children can only hold a property in their name if they are over 18.)

There is one way in which you as part of an unmarried couple might have the same protection in financial disputes as married couples. Under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 an engaged couple who separate will have the protection of any law which relates to the property rights of husband and wives. All you need to show is that there was an "agreement to marry" and that this agreement has been broken.

However, this does not stretch as far as allowing the court to change the ownership of property between you and your opponent.

However, engaged couples can for example make an application to ask the court to decide on the division of the contents of the home or for the return of any contents removed by the other party.

The court has the power to transfer tenancies between unmarried couples. The court can also order that the person who gains the tenancy pays compensation to the other.

Gay and Lesbian Couples - your rights

Relationships & Family Law