Not tied the knot? At least make sure you tie down your future rights.

Do many people actually believe in the concept of “common law marriage”? 

In my experience, it is generally understood that your financial claims on separation against your ex will only be significant if you were married, hence all those juicy divorce headlines in the newspapers.

But people are less clear on what, (if anything), they can claim if they separate after living with girlfriend or boyfriend.

I often see clients who bought a home with their partner and contributed financially, but the house was put in their partner’s sole name.  That means that my client has no legal interest in the house.  To succeed with a claim for a share of the equity, they will have to produce evidence of financial contributions, any agreement that the property was to be shared and/or prove that they relied on this agreement to their detriment.

Cases are decided according to strict property law and the court will take into account who paid for the property at the time of the purchase, who has paid for any later work and who has made the mortgage payments.  The court will also look in detail at what the parties said to each other.  It can be tricky to remember what happened many years ago, papers may have been lost or destroyed and it can be hard to get hold of old bank statements.  But large amounts of money may be at stake and succeeding with a claim could mean securing a home for life.

I would always recommend negotiation first and have found alternative dispute resolution (such as mediation) to be very successful.  But if that fails, an application to court would be necessary.

What about other assets such as savings? Again, claims can be made against assets if there is evidence of a contribution or an agreement.  But all of these claims have to be evidentially based.  That is the big difference between being married or not – if you did not “tie the knot”, then you cannot claim maintenance or other payments based on need.

The one exception is that unmarried parents can make claims on behalf of their child and to assist them with the costs of childcare. It is vitally important that people understand their rights (or the lack of them) and understand what they can do to protect their finances.  This is why I support the Resolution campaign #ABetterWay.

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