rights of unmarried couples

Rights of unmarried couples

Couples living together without getting married have formed Britain’s rapidly expanding family-type. Despite such growth in numbers, unmarried couples living in England and Wales have fewer rights. Although there is no legal definition for unmarried couples, a similar arrangement is often referred to as a common-law marriage. This term has now been admitted out-dated since there is no such thing as a common-law spouse.

Common-law marriage is not recognised by the family courts. Cohabiting relationships, and other alliances are hardly recognised at law and do not possess sufficient protection. In response, individuals in similar relationships also have fewer responsibilities to each other in the face of separation and break-up.

The courts in England and Wales do not have a clear framework to follow while deciding on unmarried couples’ matters after splitting up. Although cohabiting couples in Scotland do have some basic rights if their relationship ends.

For this very reason, unmarried couples should enter into cohabitation agreements beforehand, which can align things well if the partnership ever comes to an end.

Inheritance rights
The surviving partner has no automatic right to inherit from the deceased’s estate, if other partner in a cohabiting relationship dies without a will, either under statute or common law. To benefit from the deceased partner’s estate, a surviving partner can make a claim from their estate under the Inheritance Act 1975, within the specific time frame of 6 months. 

Upon receiving an application, the court examines several aspects, including the applicant’s unconventional circumstances and the other inheritors of the deceased’s property. Then a decision will be made whether the applicant should be provided with a share in the inheritance.

Property Rights
Spending considerably large amount for a family home is often the most significant investment made by many people living in the UK. Which takes sufficient time and devotion from both individuals in a relationship. 

The arrangement is very similar to that of married couples when an unmarried partner dies. Except for the imposition of inheritance tax upon spouses. The partner only gets to retain the entire house upon the death of the other partner if they own it as a joint tenancy. If both the partners as a tenancy-in-common owned the house, the deceased partner’s share would be treated as part of their estate and passed along through inheritance. 

In the cases where the deceased partner holds the entire title to the family home, the other partner is left with no legal rights to remain in the house. This means the surviving partner can be asked to leave. In such a situation, it can be averted if the couple have children and in need of essential housing.

Conversely, when the relationship comes to an end, placing a claim is very different from cases of married couples. Former partners in an unmarried couple cannot claim “ownership” over the property of the other partner after a break-up. To amicably sort matters after the break-up, the partners can either sell the property, that is jointly owned by both, profits from which may be received by both, according to their shares. They can also choose to sell their share if one of the partners wishes to buy the other’s share in the property. 

Courts are very reluctant to intervene robustly and divide the parties’ properties equally, where applicable, the way it happens in divorce. The court may determine the shares of the former partners by looking at each partner’s financial contributions towards the home’s family and household expenses and adjudging whether a trust had formed.

Spousal Support
In the absence of any formal agreement of marriage or partnership, none of the former partners is responsible for providing for the other’s maintenance or financial well-being after the split. This means none of them could claim any support from the other post-break-up, even if the partner lived together for decades. However, if the partners have already started a family and have children, child support will have to be provided.

Parental Responsibility
Parental responsibility for children automatically belongs to the mothers. Alternatively, fathers may only be eligible to receive parental responsibility by qualifying for any of the following scenarios. The first one is by marrying the mother of the child(ren), and/or by jointly registering the children’s birth.

Parental responsibility gives parents the right to children’s custody and their decisions for education, welfare, and religion, amongst others.

Joint Banking
Due to relationship status, many unmarried couples do not see procedures and rules differently, although marriage was never essential to open a joint bank account. Joint bank accounts can help providing a shared record of cashflow.  The other joint operator of the account has the freedom to take out all the money present in the account if ever you split up with them, whilst the joint account keeps operating as before. A close association through a joint account with the other partner also means that the partner’s credit score or poor financial record directly impacts your personal credit score.

Debt sharing
Partners in a cohabiting relationship are responsible of the debts they take up individually and exclusively. A person cannot be accountable nor forced to pay any debts which their partner has failed to pay or defaulted. Conversely, if the debt was in both partners’ joint name, both shall be liable to pay the amount borrowed during the set monthly instalments (where applicable).

What are my options?
For further information on the complex aspects of family laws or to find out what can be done in your circumstances, contact us on 01983 632006 or email us on info@michaelspoors.co.uk