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What happens when the relationship between cohabitees breaks down?

The number of cohabiting couples has doubled since 1996. With over 3.3 million people now cohabiting in the UK, legislation surrounding the rights (or lack thereof) of cohabiting couples that do not enter into marriage or civil partnership is becoming increasingly relevant.

Marriage and civil partnership, carries with it a blanket of shared-ownership of many aspects of property and assets. For cohabiting couples, these assets generally stay with the registered owner in the event of the couple splitting up. This can leave those who give up their careers and take care of the home and children in difficulties in the event of the relationship breaking down. The legal remedies available can often be very expensive and can be very complicated.

Trusts of Land & Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 – If property is in the sole name of one cohabitee, the other can potentially claim under this Act in the event of the relationship breaking down. However, this comes with the difficult burden of having to prove that both parties had the ‘common intention’ for the non-named party to have an interest in the property.

Children Act 1989 – For ex-cohabiting couples with children, this Act allows the unmarried carer of the child/children to submit to the Court an application to receive maintenance or a lump sum from the other party for the benefit of the child/children or the right to continue to live in a property. It is important to note that Courts will only award the carer a sum that is strictly just enough for the child/children.

Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 – Spouses generally have an automatic right to the deceased’s assets. The same cannot be said for cohabitees. Cohabitees are excluded by default and must apply under this Act and will in only certain circumstances be awarded anything.

Fatal Accident Act 1976 – Under this Act, only spouses and civil partners are entitled to bereavement damages. Cohabitees are not automatically entitled to a share of the occupational pension of the deceased partner.

Resolution is campaigning for the improved rights of cohabiting couples. With the government extending civil partnership to heterosexual couples; those who are disillusioned with marriage might opt for civil partnership instead to grant them access to improved rights. However, it is important to note that this recent reform is not a substitute for improved legislation tailored to deal with the 3.3 million people cohabiting as mentioned above.

If you need help regarding this or any other legal issue, please contact:

Email Philip Elliott

Email Anna Jenkins

Email Jonathan Copper

Family Law eBrief 11 March 2019