The myth of common law rights
When a cohabiting, unmarried couple separate the legal issues are somewhat different than for a couple who have the legal protection of marriage.A myth still perpetuates that a couple who have been living together for a long time or have children together are ‘common law husband and wife.’ There is no such thing.
Whilst married couple have certain rights under English law, relating to finances and children, cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights.
Getting together - making it legal
Few people remember the legal implications of marriage which include the financial ties created between two people and the rights that marriage gives to fathers in terms of parental responsibility for any children of that relationship.
For those couples choosing to live together and not get married a living together agreement, sometimes called a cohabitation agreement, can provide some legal protection.
A living together agreement provides the framework for a couple to record their intentions and their respective contributions to the relationship. This can help set aside any fears they may have prior to living together, leaving them feeling safe in the knowledge that if the relationship was to break down, they would be protected financially. A living together agreement might be particularly important for a couple buying a house together, running a business together or planning to have children together.
With more and more people choosing to live together rather than get married living together agreements are becoming more common.
Woolley & Co can often prepare a Living Together Agreement for a fixed fee. Contact us on 0800 321 3832 to discuss your particular circumstances.
Separation for cohabitating couples
The process of separation for an unmarried couple with a living together (or cohabitation agreement) should be pretty straight-forward.
If there is no living together agreement and the relationship between the couple has broken down such that they are unable to agree arrangements between themselves there may be very little that can be done using family law proceedings. If there is a joint property or business it may be possible to ask the courts to decide how this should be shared. The basis on which you own the property will be very important here (see How you own your property really matters).
For advice call 0800 321 3832.
Unmarried couples and children
The law is designed to protect children and therefore when an unmarried couple separate the concern will be for the welfare of any children of the relationship. If a couple cannot agree about where their children will live and contact arrangements the court can be asked to consider the case and make a judgement. In an ideal world however parents should try and make arrangements and come to an agreement between themselves. If they cannot an application can be made to the courts for a Child Arrangement Order, which will set out living, care and contact arrangements for the child.
A couple should try to agree amongst themselves how they will both financially support their children once they separate but if an agreement cannot be reached you can appeal to the court to make a decision.
Advice for unmarried couples
The family lawyers at Woolley & Co can advise on all of these issues, supporting couples to come to agreements about the division of any finances and property and make arrangements for the care and support of their children, including applications for court orders.
For advice on your position contact Woolley & Co on 0800 321 3832 or request a call using our online form.
It has been reassuring to know there is someone like you available to offer the type of help that is needed in these distressing circumstances.
M. Jeffery (June 2014)