Local legal experts discuss dilemmas that arise for separating couples

Local legal experts discuss dilemmas that arise for separating couples

In the last decade the number of unmarried partners setting up home together has doubled but very few are aware of their likely legal position if the relationship were to break down.

Indeed many unmarried partners are surprised to discover that living together does not necessarily in itself give an interest in the shared home or other property, nor does it give rise to a liability to provide maintenance for your partner. The myth of the ‘common law husband and wife’ is a popular but misguided belief that once you have lived together for a period of time (some say six months, some say two years) the law will recognise you as legal ‘partners’.

The reality is that when the relationship of unmarried partners breaks down the Court does not have the wide powers that are available to adjust property rights and make Orders for capital and income provision as it has on the break down of a marriage. In fact, unmarried partners are almost always entirely reliant upon the somewhat archaic and complex principles of land and trust law to determine any dispute as to the ownership of land or property.

Since 1984 lawyers have acknowledged the need to put in place measures to achieve fairness for unmarried partners.

This follows the decision of the unfortunate case of Mrs Burns (who had a passion for decorating) who left her family home with nothing to show for her 19 unmarried years with her partner.The remedy lies with Parliament and 28 years later we are still waiting.

In the meantime many of those who come through the doors of our offices looking for legal assistance when their unmarried relationship ends will have to be given often unwelcome advice as to their legal position.

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The lack of effective remedies for those finding themselves at the end of a lengthy but unmarried relationship can often be profound. They are particularly acute in those cases where a partner has relegated a career behind the important tasks of raising children, supporting partners and making family homes. As a result they have little or no independent economic muscle of their own.

All family lawyers need now to be as conversant with the legal consequences of a breakdown between unmarried partners as those of a breakdown between married partners and be equipped to advise accordingly. Indeed it must be appropriate in many cases for those considering entering into an unmarried relationship to take a lawyer’sadvice before commencing living together. Potential problems couldthen be identified and hopefully avoided.

For expert legal advice in relation to all Family Law matters, contact Karen Bennett or Daniel Jones at Bennett Smith Solicitors on 01248 679000

Solicitors’ comments

To ensure that you owe your property as you intend it is important that at the time of purchase you have an express declaration of trust in a living together agreement or a deed of trust. Your living together agreement can set out how the mortgage and other property costs will be paid. It can also provide the framework in the event of a separation and can cover not only entitlement to the net equity in the property but also for payments of debts etc.For further advice contact Lorraine Harvey, Principal Lawyer (Partner) at Slater & Gordon Lawyers on 0808 175 7761 or LHarvey@rjwslatergordon.co.uk. We offer a free consultation at either our office in Manchester or in our discreet meeting rooms in Bramhall. Late night and weekend appointments are also available.

If you are intending to live with someone, before you go ahead and buy a house together, it may often be a good idea to seek legal advice early on. There can be important differences in the way you decide to co-own a property and the terms of your proposed joint ownership.For further information, contact Diana Williams partner and trained collaborative Solicitors and mediator at Cullimore Dutton on 01244 356 789 or e.mail diana.williams@cullimoredutton.co.uk

It is easy to understand why couples living together would assume that they can consider themselves on a par with married couples and that if their relationship breaks down divorce law will help them resolve their difficulties. Although there is consideration being given to changing the law to bring it in line, at the moment there is little similarity between how property, assets and income are divided between an unmarried and married couple. There is vitally no presumption of sharing, fairness or equality.If you are in a relationship and not married it is important to seek specialist legal advice as to how to deal with your assets even before a separation is on the horizon.Rachel Wynn Jones, PartnerFamily and Divorce departmentrwynnjones@walkersmithway.com0844 346 3153 www.walkersmithway.com

A cohabitation agreement (also known as a living together agreement) entered into by a couple before cohabiting, with the benefit of independent legal advice, can regulate matters such as the sharing of expenses whilst living together as well as the division of property and assets if the relationship breaks down. Such an agreement can therefore limit the uncertainty, distress and expense which a separated cohabitee may otherwise face in seeking financial remedies on their relationship breakdown.

A cohabitation or living together agreement can be drawn up and signed by the couple to set down clearly their intentions and expectations regarding their relationship, their property and finances. This can deal with the position during their cohabitation and specify their intentions in the unfortunate event of a breakdown of the relationship. Such an agreement is a contract between the couple and must, therefore, comply with certain legal requirements to be enforceable.

An experienced family law solicitor will be able to fully advise on all aspects of arranging your financial and property affairs when living together.For further information contact Louise Richardson or Beverley McCluskey at Hague Lambert in Knutsford on 01565 652411

If you separate from your partner and you do not have the benefit of such an agreement, it is important to take legal advice from an experienced Family lawyer as soon as possible on all the potential financial claims available for you and any children of the relationship and how best to pursue those by negotiation or otherwise.Beverley Darwent is a partner in the Family team at Pannone LLP, Tel: 0161 9091579 Beverley.darwent@pannone.co.ukwww.pannone.com