How to claim and divide assets when cohabiting couples separate

Cohabiting or common-law couples are the fastest growing type of family in the UK. However, if you haven’t set up a cohabitation agreement, you could be in store for a nasty shock, with little or no entitlement to anything should the relationship sadly break down.

Read our guide to find out more on how assets are divided and your common law rights when splitting up.

Relationship breakdown and finances

I’ve split up with my partner – what am I entitled to?

We’re frequently asked, “what is a common law partner entitled to?”. In England and Wales, common law marriage does not exist, no matter if you’ve been living with your partner for 2 weeks, 9 months or 20+ years. It is a dangerous hearsay that many cohabiting couples fall victim to.If you aren’t married or in a civil partnership, you have no automatic legal right to the assets of your partner which, if you’ve been living in his or her house, can leave you without a home and in financial ruin.

You may have a claim in certain circumstances and you should contact our cohabitation specialists to discuss your circumstances as soon as possible.

Am I entitled to half the house if I’m not married to my partner?

When a married couple or a couple in a civil partnership separate or get a divorce, the house is usually treated as a shared asset, even if it is in the name of just one of the couples. For unmarried couples, this is not the case. Ownership of Property in that instance can be complicated.  The starting point is to look at the legal ownership of the Property. If the Property is in joint names then often, but not always, the starting point is an equal share. If the Property is one partner’s name then the starting point is that they are entitled to the whole of it but the other partner may be able to pursue a claim for an interest in certain circumstances.

Depending on the circumstances and contributions made, you may be able to claim a portion of the sale price if you can prove that you have contributed to the mortgage, the initial deposit or paid for any significant work on the house such as an extension.

Splitting up with your partner – mortgage issues

If you have a joint mortgage and the relationship breaks down, then it is normal practice to try and transfer the mortgage so only one partner has their name on it. However, this very much depends on the financial circumstances of the couple and the terms on which the relationship ends.

When a cohabiting couple split up and the partner with the liability of making the mortgage payments is the one that has left the home, it’s very common for mortgage payments to stop. This can leave the partner that doesn’t own the property and has no legal rights to the property in a difficult financial situation.

The partner living in the property may wish to make the payments on behalf of their ex-partner, to avoid the house being repossessed, however, the mortgage lender has no legal obligation to accept such payments. In this situation, the cohabitant can try to get an occupation order to give them the right to pay the mortgage without being liable for it, unless the court decides to transfer the liability of the mortgage temporarily.

Should the property be in the name of just one of the partners but as a joint mortgage, both are jointly and independently liable for the mortgage payments, regardless of who remains in the property. Therefore, if a partner leaves and stops paying for the mortgage, the remaining partner would be asked by the lender to cover the full mortgage payment and cannot claim that they are only responsible for a proportion of the payment. This can leave the remaining partner in a difficult financial situation if they cannot afford the mortgage payments on their own.

Securing an unmarried couples’ rights when splitting up

Where a property is in one parties name it is best to enter into a cohabitation agreement. This gives a legal standing to the arrangements you have whilst living together, as well as the rights of each partner should the relationship breakdown.

This can be a difficult conversation to have with your partner, especially when you’re riding on a wave of excitement for starting your new life together. However, it is an important conversation to have and arriving at an amicable cohabitation agreement will, in the long run, strengthen your relationship and understanding of your position, ahead of any break down of the relationship in the future. A cohabitation agreement will also save both of you time, money and future stress or financial ruin.

At Abacus Solicitors, we have a dispute resolution team who can assist you in resolving cohabitation disputes or advise you on matters relating to your cohabiting rights to a property. To find out how we can help you arrive at a positive outcome with your partner, contact our cohabitation solicitors today at 0161 833 0044, or visit us at our offices in Warrington and Manchester.