Cohabiting relationship breakdown

Marriage has become far less common than it used to be, with couples opting to live together – or cohabit – instead. However, problems arise if the cohabiting relationship breaks down and precautions were not taken.

Marriage can be expensive, leaving couples paying off masses of debt for years. The importance of tradition has diminished for many, and the idea of gathering all of their family together for a wedding day prompts feelings of dread. It’s therefore little wonder that more and more people are opting for a cohabiting relationship instead. Unfortunately, couples in cohabiting relationships have none of the rights that married couples have. If there isn’t a cohabitation agreement, a relationship breakdown can become a long, drawn out battle.

Dividing up the assets

The law provides some limited protection for cohabiting couples:

  • The Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA): This Act allows cohabiting couples to make claims for property rights in the event of a breakup. TOLATA primarily deals with the legal ownership of property, how property was acquired and contributions made by each partner.
  • Cohabitation agreements: Much like prenuptial agreements in marriage, cohabiting couples can create cohabitation agreements. These specify how assets and property are divided if a relationship breaks down: they can help reduce disputes and provide clarity.

The main component of any dispute is usually property. Without a cohabitation agreement the general rules of property and trust law apply in order to determine ownership and entitlement. The starting point is who legally owns the property, and from this point any party wishing to make a claim on this property must show that they have a beneficial interest.

It might be that whilst a party does not appear on the deeds of the property, they contributed significant money towards the running of the property or renovations and can argue that they should have a share. Similarly, both parties might be treating the property as ‘shared’ but without any formal arrangements. These cases may need to be resolved by a Family Court judge in the absence of a cohabitation agreement.

Financial support

Financial support considerations during a cohabiting relationship breakdown include spousal support, child support, and legal obligations.

  • Spousal Support: Unlike in some countries, UK law does not provide an automatic right to spousal support for cohabiting couples. However, if one partner establishes a financial dependency on the other, they may seek financial support through the courts.
  • Child Support: Child support arrangements are vital for cohabiting couples with children. The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) can help calculate and arrange child support payments based on the non-resident parent’s income.

Child custody and parenting

Child custody and parenting arrangements are key implications for cohabiting couples wishing to separate, as well as for their children. Observing their parents’ relationship breakdown can be a highly traumatic experience for children, especially if it is acrimonious. As such, minimising detrimental impact on children is one of the key aspects that we address in any separation, unmarried or not.

  • Child Custody: Child custody decisions prioritise the best interests of the child. Courts consider factors such as the child’s welfare, wishes, and the capability of each parent when making custody decisions.
  • Parenting Plans: Creating a parenting plan is essential to address visitation schedules, holidays, and other aspects of co-parenting. These plans help ensure the child’s stability and maintain a positive co-parenting relationship.

Legal recourse

We can help you to understand the legal recourse available in the event of an unmarried relationship breakdown. Some of the options are: –

  • Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): Mediation is often recommended to resolve disputes outside of court. This involves the use of an independent, impartial person who will assist in achieving a mutually acceptable separation. Alternative dispute resolution methods can also be effective in addressing issues such as property division and child custody.
  • Family Court: For complex cases involving child custody, significant assets, or disputes that cannot be resolved through mediation, the Family Court can provide a legal venue for addressing these issues. This is something Inghams has significant experience with.
  • TOLATA Claims: The Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA) provides a legal avenue for resolving property disputes when a cohabiting relationship ends. It offers a means to clarify property ownership, financial contributions, and property division in a fair and just manner, with a focus on achieving equitable outcomes for all parties involved.

Contact us

We can advise you on your rights, your options and your best course of action if you are about to cohabit, are currently cohabiting or are seeking to break up a cohabitation arrangement. We can also help you with a cohabitation agreement. Give our family team a call or message us online to discuss your family law situation.