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Concerned about cohabitation in the UK? Many couples live together without legally formalising their relationship as a civil partnership or marriage. When the relationship breaks down, there is often confusion about what a party is entitled to, and it is often the case that it can be surprising to learn that the law is quite limited in terms of helping a party who needs ongoing financial support.

The biggest misconception is that there is “common law” marriage. Even if you have lived together for decades and have children together, this does not give rise to the same financial claims that exist between a married couple or a couple who have a civil partnership. A married party can apply to the Court for a range of financial orders and the Court will make orders which are based on the principles of needs, reasonableness and fairness. In contrast, a former cohabitee has limited claims.

Commonly, the main asset in dispute is the former family home. This is dealt with under trust law and is not generally based on family law principles. In simple terms, the Court will be concerned with trying to ascertain who owns what property by analysing what the parties intended or whether either or both parties have contributed to the purchase or renovation of the property, to gain a “beneficial interest”.

When a relationship ends, disputes about property and money can be difficult to resolve. It is therefore important that expert legal advice is sought.

Disputes about arrangements for children are dealt with in the same way as other parents, irrespective of whether a parent was married or not. However, financial provision for children can be more complicated.  For cohabiting couples, these issues cannot be resolved as part of the divorce or dissolution process as it often can for couples who are married or in a civil partnership.  Parents will, therefore, need to consider whether to make a claim for child support through the Child Maintenance Service or to make an application to the court for financial provision for their child under Schedule 1 of the Children Act. We can give clear advice about your options.

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