Unmarried Couples’ Property Rights UK
Unmarried couples have limited property rights in the UK. They do not enjoy the protection afforded by the Matrimonial Homes Legislation, which allows spouses to remain in the matrimonial home until their divorce has been finalised even when they do not legally own it. Unmarried couples, on the other hand, are treated by the law as ‘cohabitees’. Their rights in relation to the property are the same as they would be, were they living together as friends, and they are not given additional rights by virtue of being in a relationship. Here, our expert family laws solicitors explain the extent of unmarried couples’ property rights in the UK and describe the measures you and your partner can put in place to ensure your respective positions are fully protected.
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What Rights Do Unmarried Couples Have Over Property In The UK?
Nowadays, many couples choose to live together before they get married or become civil partners, with some deciding not to enter into a legal union at all. However, the law has yet to catch up with the reality of modern relationships. It does not treat unmarried couples in the same way as those who are married or in civil partnerships; unmarried couples living together are simply deemed to be doing so as ‘cohabitees’.
If an unmarried couple owns the property they live in jointly, they can choose how to deal with it in the event of a split. Many sell the property and split the proceeds, others come to an agreement whereby one buys the other out, or some may decide to keep the property and rent it to tenants.
If the property in which an unmarried couple lives is owned solely by one partner, the non-owning partner’s rights are somewhat limited. This can cause untold stress and turmoil for those individuals who have lived in a property for some time and consider it their home. Unlike their married counterparts, the law does not allow unmarried partners to remain in the property for a period of time following the breakdown of their relationship. They have no automatic entitlement to a share of their home, regardless of the length of time for which they were in relationship with its owner.
Sometimes, our family law solicitors can address this issue by invoking a little-known statute called The Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, or TOLATA. TOLATA enables individuals, including unmarried cohabitees, to claim rights over a property on the basis that they have a beneficial interest in it. To succeed in a TOLATA claim you must prove to the Court that you and your ex-partner had a shared belief that the property was owned jointly, despite it being registered in one partner’s name. The types of evidence required to make out a TOLATA claim will depend on the circumstances. Sometimes, the fact that a non-owning partner had paid for substantial improvements to the property or contributed towards the deposit can satisfy the Court that the couple must have intended for the property to be owned by them both. TOLATA claims are notoriously complex and involve complicated legal principles, but our family law solicitors have vast experience in the area and will advise on the merits of your position and pursue any claim in your behalf.
How Can Unmarried Individuals Protect Their Position?
Since the law offers little protection for unmarried couples, it is incumbent upon the partners to take proactive steps to safeguard their own interests. Some couples choose to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement when they move in together, whereby they document how their assets should be divided in the event of a separation. A Cohabitation Agreement can also deal with other pertinent matters, such as childcare arrangements, next of kin rights and any other issues of importance to the couple. Provided a Cohabitation Agreement is correctly drafted and meets the relevant legal criteria, it should be binding on the couple in the event of a split.
How Can We Help?
The law governing unmarried couples’ property rights in the UK does not favour non-owning individuals, who can often get an unpleasant surprise when their relationship breaks down and they discover they have no entitlement over the property they call home. To avoid this eventuality, it is sensible to put documentation in place to protect your interests at an early stage. Far from being unromantic, taking such steps gives both partners certainty over their respective positions, and allows them to relax and enjoy their relationship. Our family law solicitors have assisted countless clients to document their intentions regarding their assets and will ensure any Agreement you enter into accurately reflects your desires, is watertight and satisfies all applicable legal criteria. If your relationship has ended and you are unsure of your rights, our family law solicitors will review your circumstances and give clear, concise advice on your situation and the best course of action. They will work with you with empathy and compassion, seeking to ensure a fair outcome for you and your family, so that you can move forward in the best position possible.
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