Financial arrangements for unmarried couples

It’s often thought that cohabitants or un-married couples still have legal binding of shared assets. However, unmarried couples do not have the same legal obligations to one another as their married counterparts and a multitude of issues can arise over the ownership of property upon separation.

If you’re unmarried or cohabitants, it is often thought that property is shared, as if you were legally married. However this is not true and should separation

An unmarried person’s rights in relation to property are significantly affected by whether or not there are children of the relationship. If there are, it is open to a parent to make an application under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 for a lump sum, settlement or transfer of property order.

However, since the law is that the cohabitant herself (it is still usually the mother making the claim) has no claims in her own right, any capital which is awarded to purchase a property is likely to be held in trust until the child’s majority or the end of full-time education, whereupon the capital sum will revert to the payer.

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What about our property?

It is a common misconception that when you’ve lived together for a few years, you become a ‘common law’ spouse, with the same rights as married people. However, this is not the case and can lead to complications. By not being married or in a civil partnership, the law doesn’t accord cohabiting couples any specific rights over property, pensions or savings as examples.

This means that if, for example, one of you owns the property you live in while you are together, the other party has no clear legal claim on the property if the relationship ends, even if they have contributed equally to household costs for many years. The same applies to pensions, savings, and investments, as these will generally remain the property of the person whose name they are in.

What happens with Child Maintenance?

Like property and other assets, the law treats arrangements for children equally, the same whether you are married, cohabiting, or in a civil partnership.

If you have children together, the only type of support available is child maintenance. It is encouraged that couples agree the child maintenance between themselves but we know this is not always possible and an appeal to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) can be made.

That’s because the law puts the rights and wellbeing of children above all else in cases of parental separation.

A parent can also have parental responsibility even if they are not married. Unmarried mothers automatically have parental responsibility, but unmarried fathers only have parental responsibility under certain circumstances.

Can I get spousal support?

As is the case with children and property, the legal position with regards to spousal support is that while married couples have a financial responsibility to one another when they separate or divorce, cohabiting couples do not. If you have children together, the other party will almost certainly be liable to pay child maintenance to contribute towards the costs of the children; but this isn’t the same thing as getting spousal support or maintenance for your own benefit.

There are some laws that can assist a cohabiting couple that have separated, but it is complex and can be difficult to navigate alone.

If you need support with any of the following areas, our experienced team of family lawyers can help you navigate your way through these hurdles and advise you how the law can help with your particular case.

We can also help you to arrange a cohabitation agreement, which can regulate your financial arrangements.

Contact us and speak to an experienced member of our Family Law team on 033 33 582 588.

For information about Legal Aid services, visit our Legal Aid page.

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For further information and confidential advice from our team of specialist solicitors, please contact a member of our team or call us on

033 33 582 588

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