Financial Rights of Unmarried Couples Living Together
16 November 2017
Unmarried couples living together in England and Wales do not share the same legal rights as those who are married or in a civil partnership. However, whether you can make a financial claim is entirely dependent on your circumstances.
The Family Home
Arguably the family home is the most valuable financial asset a couple would have accumulated during their relationship. Unlike married couples, your ability to make a financial claim on the property will depend on whether you are a joint owner, or whether you have contributed towards the purchase, mortgage or repair of the household.
A property may be held in the sole name of one partner or may be owned jointly between the couple.
If you are joint owners, then you and your partner have equal rights to stay in the property. However, if your partner is the sole owner, you may have no legal rights to remain in the home if you are asked to leave. However, this can be affected if there are children living in the home and their housing needs will need to continue being met. In these circumstances, the Court will only grant you and your children the right to stay in the home if it decides it is in the best interests of the children. Usually this would be for a limited time period, until your youngest child is 18 years old.
If you are the sole owner of the property you have a legal right to stay in the home. However, your partner may be able to claim a 'beneficial interest' in the property.
If you don't have children and your partner is the sole owner, the only way you may be able to claim long-term rights to the property is if you can show you have a 'beneficial interest' in it. This is a way of getting a Court to formally recognise contributions you have made towards the home. The Court could also recognise an understanding you had with your ex-partner when you bought the home that you would have a share in the property if it were sold.
You may be able to ask a Court to decide who has the right to stay in the home on a short-term basis. This is called an Occupation Order. You can also apply for an Occupation Order to allow you to return to the home if you've left.
You can apply for an Occupation Order if you're the sole owner, joint owner, have a beneficial interest or are the partner of a sole owner. However, if you're not the owner or joint owner, you can only apply for certain types of Occupation Order.
An Occupation Order usually lasts for a limited period of time.
Living together as an unmarried couple does not entitle you to claim for financial maintenance from your ex-partner in the same way that marriage does. This means that even if you and your partner have lived together for decades and one of you has been financially dependent on the other throughout this time, neither would be able to claim ongoing financial support from the other after separation.
If you have children, both parents have a legal duty to financially support their children. Therefore, whichever parent the child (or children) lives with after separation would be entitled to Child Maintenance payments from the other parent.
When considering whether you have a financial claim on your ex’s pension, this will entirely depend on the pension scheme.
Some pension schemes cater more for unmarried couples, providing the opportunity for the pension scheme member to complete an ‘expression of wishes’ which will specify who benefits from their pension.
Unfortunately not all pensions are as flexible, but this does not mean that someone would not be able to gain access to their partner’s pension fund. Where a pension may only be paid to a spouse or left to the decision of the trustees, the other person may seek the assistance of a trustee to gain access.
Reduce the Risks with a Cohabitation Agreement
If you and your partner are thinking about moving in together, or even if you are already living together, you might want to consider making a Cohabitation Agreement to ensure that you both know where you stand.
A Cohabitation Agreement can cover how you’ll share the rent or mortgage and bills between you and how to deal with any bank accounts, property or assets if you separate. A Cohabitation Agreement helps to agree things fairly, without the emotional pressures which can arise when a relationship breaks down. It can also help to avoid unnecessary stress and costly disputes in the future.
During the coronavirus lockdown, many couples moved in together to avoid being separated indefinitely. See our Guide to Cohabiting during Lockdown for more information.