What are your Rights if Your Relationship Breaks Down?

Friday February 7, 2020

Whether you’re in a marriage or civil partnership – what are your rights if your relationship breaks down?Civil Partnership

There’s even more choice now to legally formalize and protect your relationship after the Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 came into effect on 2 December 2019 meaning opposite sex couples can now enter into a civil partnership too.

On divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership, the court can make whatever financial order is fair and all assets, whether held in joint or sole names, can be taken into account.  A prenuptial agreement can be obtained by those who have significant assets or, expectations of significant assets they wish to protect. While not legally binding, a properly drafted prenuptial agreement which meets the legal criteria will upheld by the courts these days.

This is in stark contrast to the legal rights of couples who live together without marrying or having a civil partnership.

On separation each partner can keep whatever is in their own name and if the house is not in their joint names, then the partner with the name on the title deeds and who has paid the mortgage will keep the house, unless the other can establish that there was a mutual intention that they should have an interest in it (often an uphill and expensive struggle).

What steps can you take to protect yourself financially if you are living with your partner?

Marriage or a civil partnership may not be on the cards for you; perhaps you have decided to live together or found yourself in that situation over time.  At the outset of your cohabitation or, as soon as you are aware, it is advisable to discuss the ownership of any property either of you may have and agree what would happen to it if your relationship breaks down.  You should also consider how any gifts or loans from you to each other or from family may be treated.

Have a cohabitation or a living together agreement

Unlike on divorce, there is no particular set of rules that automatically apply if the relationship breaks down.  Living with someone in a relationship for any period of time does not mean you are entitled to automatic financial support or to a share in all property following a relationship breakdown.  If your interest in a property hasn’t already been recorded, sorting out disputes without an agreement can be expensive and take a long time. 

A cohabitation agreement is a legally binding contract between you and your partner. By agreement, it can be reviewed and amended as your circumstances change during your relationship.

What is the position when you have children?

If you have children, the position is slightly different.  However, even then and without a cohabitation agreement being in place, the claims of the partner with day-to-day care of the children are limited to child maintenance and expenditure which directly relates to the care of the child.  An unmarried partner who stays at home and cares for the children cannot make any claims for themselves in their own right for property, maintenance or pensions as they would be able to do in a marriage or civil partnership.

Helen Pidgeon is a solicitor, mediator and collaborative lawyer and director of Helen Pidgeon Solicitors specializing in the law of cohabitation as well as all aspects of private family law matters.  Please contact us if you require further assistance to help you decide what is right for you and your family.

This article is intended for general advice upon the law. If you require advice about your particular circumstances then you should seek your own independent legal advice about the approach you should take and how this will affect you.

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