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Legal Help for Unmarried Couples when they separate

Some people think the law recognises “common law husbands and wives” . Unfortunately, it does not. The law calls people who live together cohabitees. Cohabitees have substantially less protection / responsibilities than married couple or people who have entered into a civil partnership. This does not mean that former cohabitees have no rights and we set out below problems we are most regularly asked about.

1) I left the house which was brought in both names and my partner won’t sell it or give me my share in the house

You can force a sale of the property under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 ( unless the home is used to house child(ren) when it may be more difficult to force a sale). As always court action should be the last resort and in most cases your rights will be obtained by negotiation and agreement. Sometimes the division of the equity in the property (equity = the value of the house less the amounts outstanding on the mortgage(s)) is not a 50/50. The deeds may say how the equity is to be valued but most times they do not. If one ex-partner has contributed more than the other a court may award that partner more than 50% . If the home is to be used as a home for your children under 18 you may have to wait for your share in the home.

2) The house was purchased in my ex-partner’s name and he/she says I have no share in it

The law starts from the position that if your name is not on the deeds you are not entitled to a share in it. If you can prove that you have paid part of the deposit for the house, paid a substantial number of mortgage payments, paid for major work on the house you might be able to claim a share. The law on this is complicated and the examples given above are just some examples of what might gain you a share in the property . If there are child(ren) of the relationship they may be entitled to share in the home.

3) My partner has ordered me to the leave the house but do I have to go

If you have a share in the property, see above, you are entitled to stay in it until you are ordered out by the court, it is sold or you are bought out.

If you do not have share in the house but have been molested by your partner (wide meaning but includes violence or threat of violence) then you can apply to the courts for a non-molestation order which, if granted, would allow you stay in the house for some time. if you have property rights you can apply to the courts for an occupation order.

4) My partner won’t give me back the things I brought, what can I do about it?

The law decides the ownership on who brought the items, the buyer can keep them.

If your ex-partner gave you an item as a gift then you keep it. An engagement ring is presumed to be a gift.

5) We did not split up but my partner has died and he / she did not leave a will, what I am entitled to?

If there is a will then the estate should be paid out according to the terms of the will .If a person dies without leaving a will (intestate) then the intestacy rules apply. A surviving spouse or civil partner will receive the first £250,000 and the rest equally between the surviving children. A surviving co-habitee does not such entitlement . It is essential for both of you to make a will when you live together. If the house is in joint names it will probably go the other if no will is made and similarly with joint bank accounts. If you or your children were financially dependent on your partner and there is no will or you have been left out of the will you can apply to the court under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975

6) Since the split, I have had the child. What rights does my ex-partner have to see the children?

If you are the birth mother of the child you have automatically parental responsibility. If you are the father the common ways you get parental responsibility by jointly registering the birth with mother, later registering with mother’s agreement or court order. If you have parental responsibility. For more details on responsibilities and rights on parental responsibility go to

The fact that you have parental responsibility does not give the right to see the child (contact). The right of contact belongs to the child. A court will not refuse a parent a right to see a child without good reason.

We can help you at the start of the relationship by drawing up a cohabitation agreement. This will be particularly helpful when one partner brings to the relationship substantial funds which the other partner cannot match.