Unmarried Couples

If an unmarried couple with joint assets and children decide to split, then the rules are different to those that apply to a married couple that are divorcing. While there is a lot of talk about common law husband or wife, there is no such distinction in court where the rules, rights and responsibilities are very different to those of two people who are married. It is all too easy to forget that marriage is a legal contract and therefore the couple have legal rights and responsibilities towards each other and to making financial arrangements for their children.

If you plan to live together without getting married then it can help to have a living together agreemen. A living together agreement is virtually the same as a pre-nuptial agreement and dictates what should happen to any joint assets and to family finances if you split up. A living together agreement needs to be done with the help of a solicitor. When you live together you do not have the same rights under the UK legal system as you would if you were married. Couples can become quite fearful of what will happen to property and finances should they split up, a living together agreement lays down the terms and conditions of financial support and division of property as agreed by the couple.

When you live together you have no recourse to law for financial support or for somewhere for you and your children, if you have them, to live. A living together agreement also gives you some financial protection if your partner dies. Under the law as it stands a cohabitee does not have the same inheritance rights as they would if they were part of a married couple. When you are thinking about a living together agreement it will be more helpful to you both if you were to seek independent legal advice on the terms of such agreement. In the heat of the moment it is all too easy to agree to something that could leave you financially worse off if the relationship breaks down or one of you dies. A solicitor will make sure that the agreement is as fair as possible and you won’t have financial worries should a split occur.

A financial agreement makes sense when you are living together, particularly if you also have children. In any relationship where there are children but the couple is not married, the mother has automatic parental responsibility for those children, while the father does not.

If you live together and both want parental responsibility then you will need to apply to the court and provide a document that has been processed through a solicitor for a judge to sign off. Fathers who do not have parental responsibilities have no legal rights in the upbringing and education of their child. Fathers only have automatic parental responsibility if they are married to the mother of the child (the same does not apply to step parents) or if they are unmarried but the father’s name is on the birth certificate of a child born after 2003.