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Unmarried couples and property ownership disputes

There is a popular misconception that if you live together with your partner for a few years, you become, “common law husband and wife”, and enjoy the same rights as a married couple. This is not the case. There is no such concept as “common law marriage”.

The general principle under English law is that on a breakdown of a relationship where the parties are not married, strict property rights prevail. This means that whatever you own in your sole name is yours and whatever is owned in joint names is divided between you. However, these are only general principles. Cohabitation law is extremely complex and there are other factors which can be taken into account, for example whether:-

  • the property is owned jointly
  • one party’s actions/inferences alter the presumption that the property is owned in equal shares
  • one party has made a direct or indirect contribution towards an asset owned by the other party in their sole name
  • a party relied upon an understanding/agreement made by the other party that an asset was owned jointly, even if legally it was owned in one party’s sole name
  • a document exists which confirms that the property is owned in unequal shares  for example a declaration of trust 
  • there are dependent children

If you would like more information regarding your rights, please contact one of our family lawyers:

Swati Somaiya
Direct Dial 0116 242 1255
Mobile 07739 507 532
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