Home » Family law specialists − areas of family law » Legal rights for unmarried couples

Unmarried couples and relationship breakdown

Contrary to popular belief, unmarried couples have very little protection and legal rights under English law.

It is thought that six out of ten unmarried couples believe that they are the “common law” husband or wife of their partner. The concept of “common law marriage” is a myth and is not recognised by the family courts. This means that unmarried couples have few financial claims against each other.

If you are unmarried, you may have the following questions:

  • What financial claims, if any, do I have against my partner?
  • If the family home has to be sold what interest, if any, do I have in the proceeds of sale?
  • Will I get to stay in the family home?
  • What will happen to our children and will my partner have to pay child maintenance?

Rayden Solicitors will guide you through the answers to those questions and ascertain either what you are entitled to or what your financial responsibilities to your partner may be.

The law does not entitle an unmarried person to financial claims against their partner on the breakdown of their relationship in the way that it does for a married couple or those in a civil partnership.

The law will treat you as two unrelated individuals. It will be necessary to look to other areas of the law to see what you may be entitled to and to ensure that, so far as the law allows, your needs are met.

What happens to the family home when unmarried couples separate?

Most disputes between unmarried couples arise over the ownership of a shared home. Even if the family home is in one party’s sole name, you may still have an interest in the equity if you have made a contribution to that property. The court looks to establish if you have made a financial contribution or they may consider whether you can show that there was an agreement that you were to have an interest in the property.

Applications to court where one person believes that the legal title to a property does not reflect the true ownership can be complex and costly. The most sensible way forward is to have the property valued and to negotiate a formula for the calculation of the respective shares in the property. Our experienced family law solicitors Rayden Solicitors are best placed to assist you in this process.

If a party has made no contribution to the family home, they may still be entitled to receive financial assistance in terms of the provision of a home if they have a minor child of the family living with them. These rights derive from Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989.

Rayden Solicitors will also advise upon the rights of either party to carry on living in the family home together with strategies that will enable you to achieve the best option for you.

Find out more about the legal rights of cohabiting couples with property division.

Read our blog posts to learn more about legal rights of cohabiting couples and unmarried couple’s rights with property division.

What happens to children when unmarried couples separate?

If you and your partner have children and you separate, the parent with care is entitled to child maintenance from the non-resident parent (i.e. the parent the child does not live with). Child maintenance is a contribution towards the everyday living costs (such as household expenses, food, clothing etc.) of the child.

The amount of child maintenance payable will depend on the number of children you have with your partner and your partner’s income. Many parents can reach an agreement between themselves with regard to child maintenance voluntarily, either by agreement or by using the calculations on the  Child Maintenance Service Calculator.

For parents who are unable to agree on the amount of maintenance, they can apply to the Child Maintenance Service directly online. The amount of maintenance payable will depend on the number of children you have and your partner’s income.

In cases where there are sufficient assets or income, it is possible to make an application in law for housing to be provided for a child, as well as additional maintenance or for payments to cover school fees.

Find out more about the legal rights of cohabiting couples with children.

What should you do when your relationship breaks down?

Before you rush to take any action, it is important to remember that you may need time to come to terms with what is happening. You should therefore not take any significant steps (such as putting the family home on the market) until you are in the right frame of mind to discuss such matters with your partner.

If you have children with your partner, your children are likely to be your primary concern. Your children need to understand that they will be kept safe and secure upon the breakdown of your relationship with your partner. 

Speaking to a solicitor at an early stage is crucial. This will enable you to discuss your situation and understand your rights and obligations. A specialist family solicitor can provide you with a clear overview of the legal framework which will help you make an informed decision based on your circumstances.

Rayden Solicitors is committed to equality and diversity and in doing so supports and advises all members of our community.

How can our separation solicitors help with your unmarried couple disputes?

During pivotal life transitions, such as a separation from your partner, seeking the advice of a family solicitor is imperative. At Rayden Solicitors, we provide invaluable legal expertise to safeguard your rights, assets and the welfare of your family. Specifically, we will advise you on what financial claims (if any) you have against your partner, what happens to the family home upon separation, and what happens to your children and whether or not you or your partner will have to pay child maintenance.  

Legal Rights for Unmarried Couples FAQs

Do unmarried couples have rights in the UK?

Unmarried couples have very limited rights in the UK under current law. The law treats two unmarried people as unrelated individuals meaning that inheritance proceedings can be made very difficult and financial claims are only possible in limited circumstances.

What are the rights of a father not married?

If a child was born on or after 1 December 2003 and has unmarried parents, the child’s father has the same parental rights and responsibilities as if the parents were married, only if he is named on the birth certificate. It allows him to spend time with the child and have a say in their life, whilst also ensuring they pay child maintenance in the event of separation.

Can you sell a house if one partner refuses?

If one partner refuses to sell a property that was jointly owned in the event of a separation, the partner who wants to sell it can apply to the court to force the sale of the property dependent on a number of conditions. Rayden Solicitors has expertise in property law and can offer in-depth advice in this situation.

How long do you have to live with someone to be a “common law spouse” in the UK?

In the UK, married couples can never be “common law married”. Although many people still believe that if a couple lives together for a certain number of years, they will become common law spouses – this is actually just a myth.

We are here for expert advice

If you would like to arrange a first meeting or have any questions, please contact us or fill in the enquiry form below.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Related articles