Unmarried Couples Legal Tips – How Can We Help?
When you think of “family law”, your mind may be drawn to visions of married couples embroiled in disputes surrounding their divorce and deciding ‘who gets what’ from the matrimonial pot. As family solicitors, it is true that we often deal with clients who are married and seeking advice about obtaining a divorce and/or the division of matrimonial assets; and how best to achieve this.
Whilst our team often advise clients regarding matters such as the above, as a firm we actually deal with a wide variety of cases, including particularly niche and specialist issues. This includes cases regarding non-married couples and the issues which flow from their separation.
There is a common misconception that couples who are not married but who live together form a “common-law marriage” – this is not the case. Whilst unmarried couples might face similar issues to married couples upon separation, the way in which this is dealt within the eyes of the law can be very different.
There are a variety of issues which unmarried couples might come across, particularly in the initial stages of their separation. Perhaps the most common questions we are asked by unmarried clients relate to the division of assets and property. The way in which this is dealt with can be simpler than for married couples, but in some cases, difficulties can arise and some of the law involved can be complex.
This is where we come in. Below is a list of the most common reasons why an unmarried client might ask us for help:
- Cohabitation Agreements – if you are intending to live with your partner and either have no immediate plans to get married or do not want to get married at all, it is advisable that you seek legal advice about how your wealth and property is to be dealt with in the event of a separation. You can find out more information in our previous blogs or on our website, here:
- Separation Agreements – at the other end of the scale is assessing what happens when an unmarried couple who have been living together decide to separate. If you do not already have a cohabitation agreement, you might want to look at a ‘separation agreement’ whereby you agree what is to happen to property and how this to be divided (or sold) now that the relationship has come to an end. You can also include matters relating to children, which we will come to below.
- Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (‘TOLATA’) – if a property has been purchased by an unmarried couple but they cannot reach an agreement as to how it should be divided, it may be necessary to refer the matter to court under the “TOLATA” legislation. In a nutshell, this legislation enables the court to make decisions as to the ownership of property and how it should be dealt with – for example, should it be sold? How should the proceeds be divided? Can one person remain living there?
- Children – unmarried parents may also want our assistance in order to reach an agreement concerning with whom the child(ren) should live with and the frequency of contact for the non-resident parent. If these matters cannot be agreed between parents, they make seek legal advice and support to iron out a more ‘formal’ agreement. If negotiations prove unsuccessful, the matter may be referred to court (although this is usually a last resort).
- Schedule 1 Children Act 1989 – the majority of the time, if a parent wants to claim maintenance for the benefit of the children, this is normally dealt with either by agreement or via the Child Maintenance Service (or ‘CMS’). However, there are some circumstances where a court has the ability to make orders for financial provision for the benefit of a child. This can include periodical payments (e.g. maintenance), lump sum payments, transfers of property – to name a few.
The misconception that Family Lawyers are only able to help married couple is far from the truth and our team of experts have a great deal of experience helping unmarried and/or cohabiting couples.