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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law

The common law wife and other fairytales

There are so many different decisions which need to be made when a relationship ends. The hardest one is no doubt the decision that the relationship is over – but the consequences of this will doubtless touch all aspects of your life.

Marriage isn’t for everyone but those who choose not to take the plunge should bear in mind that they need to plan and protect to a much greater degree. It’s all in the planning

I advise all cohabiting couples to enter into a Living Together Agreement. This allows you and your partner to consider what practical steps will need to be taken if the worst happens, at a time when you care about each other and can make clear, balanced decisions. Breaking up is hard enough without the additional confusion about who should live where and battles over the toaster. Living Together Agreements allow separating couples to move on as swiftly and smoothly as possible.

We’re not married – am I entitled to anything?
The short answer is, unless you have invested financially or made provision in a Living Together Agreement, generally no. The common law spouse is a myth, regardless of how long you and your partner have lived together.

Normally the most significant asset is the house. The starting point is always to consider whose names are on the deeds to the property. There are some circumstances which may allow you to claim an interest in your former partner’s home but this is a complicated area of law.
If you are buying a home together for the first time, then do not underestimate how important it is to take advice about how the property should be owned. It could prove invaluable and save you a fortune.

What if my partner won’t leave our shared property?
If you have not entered into a Living Together Agreement, then much will depend on how the property is owned, or rented. If it is in joint names, then chances are that you won’t be able to force them to go easily in the short term. If your former partner is aggressive, then there are emergency powers to regulate who can live in the home as well as the contact between you.

What if my partner leaves, but stops paying the bills?
If your partner has left and has taken their name off the utility bills, then you will only be able to seek maintenance to help pay these if you were married to each other. The only other maintenance available regardless of marriage is child support which has no relevance to how much your bills are.

What if I die?
Even if you and your partner have lived together for years, if you die without having made a will your property will be more likely to be inherited by your parents or siblings than by your partner, unless there is a court battle.

If you are separating now, and did not enter into a Living Together Agreement at the start of the relationship, there may still be ways to come to an agreement about who gets what, but it’s important to make this official in a Separation Agreement.

Kathryn McTaggart
Family Law Solicitor

Blog Author - Kathryn McTaggart

Kathryn McTaggart Kathryn McTaggart

Kathryn is the firm’s Professional Support Lawyer (PSL), working to ensure the family law service we provide remains innovative and, above all, client and child focussed.

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