Cohabitation and separation – property rights


An increasing number of couples are choosing to live together without entering into a marriage or civil partnership. Many people believe that should such relationships end, they will be afforded protection by the law in terms of rights over property. However, such relationships are not recognised as having any legal standing, as despite what many people think there is no such thing as a common law wife or husband under UK family law.

The consequences of this can be extremely far reaching in terms of what happens to couples’ homes. Unlike married couples, unmarried couples have no rights to their partner’s property should their relationship end.

Buying property

Therefore if you are buying a property with a partner it is essential you decide whether you will own the property as joint tenants or tenant-in-common. This is best discussed with a family law solicitor. Briefly these are defined as follows:

Joint tenants – Each party jointly owns the entire property. A consequence of this is that upon the death of one party their interest in the property passes automatically to the survivor.

Tenants-in-common – Each party has a distinct share in the property, usually proportionate to their contribution to the purchase price. Upon a party’s death their share does not pass to the remaining owners but becomes part of the deceased’s estate.

If you own property as joint tenants and your relationship ends you should sever the joint tenancy as soon as possible – this will convert the joint tenancy into a tenancy-in-common meaning that you will then have a distinct share in the property, and it will not pass to your former partner should anything happen to you.

What if I don't change the tenancy in advance?

However, a large proportion of couples neglect such matters until it is too late. If a property is in the sole name of one party, the property remains entirely that person’s should the relationship end. However the court may overrule such a presumption if a common intention between the parties to the contrary can be established. Examples of this include:

  • A conversation between parties (the problem here lies in proving this took place) or a written agreement
  • The other party having contributed to the purchase price of the property
  • The other party having acted to their detriment on an understanding between the parties – for example, the non-owning party having paid household bills in order to free up the cash of the other party to make mortgage payments

Such disputes can be messy and very expensive - Contact Law can help put you in touch with an experienced yet cost effective family law solicitor – please call 0800 1777 162 or fill in the web-form for a call back from one of our trained telephone advisors.

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