Article in Pont News & Views

“There would be no society if living together depended upon understanding each other.”
Eric Hoffer

The words of Eric Hoffer remind us that couples live together for a variety of reasons, some well thought out and some not. Even those based on love and understanding initially can sadly fall apart later in a society with increasing financial and emotional burdens and hurdles. That is true of married and unmarried couples both, but there is a crucial difference in the protection the law gives to married couples which it does not give to unmarried couples.

When the understanding to live together comes to an end, will there be an understanding about that ending between you and your unmarried partner? There can be if you give this the thought and preparation it requires in advance of any breakdown. It doesn’t need to be in contemplation of a breakdown. It should be a simple step in ensuring future financial stability, like registering your home at the land registry when you buy a property.

Let me be clear THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A COMMON LAW WIFE/HUSBAND. Excuse me for shouting, but this myth lives on. Tell your friends and family. Spread the word! It was last a concept in 1753, no less than 260 years ago. In this age of twitter and faster forms of communication, it is shocking that it still persists. Until the government changes the law and recognises that married couples are now the minority, then couples need to protect themselves by contract and agreement.

A couple who have lived together do not have any right to be financially supported by the other simply by the length of time they have lived together. That may be fine for a young working couple but introduce children, redundancy, ill health and other facts of live and the picture can be much starker. The court may still consider claims on behalf of children but not unmarried partners.

The way the courts treat ownership of a family home for unmarried couples is complex and arbitrary. If there is a dispute then it can be vastly costly and involve delay. The recent Supreme Court case of Kernott v Jones in 2011 highlighted this. After a period of separation since living together the Supreme Court reduced a partner’s share in a joint property to only 10%.

Lord Justice Wall spoke to us all saying;
“this is a cautionary tale, which all unmarried couples who are contemplating the purchase of a residential property as their home, and all solicitors who advise them, should study.”

We have taken his advice and suggest you do too.

Major Family Law can prepare a living together agreement for you at a competitive rate; email us We also offer a free initial consultation.

Written by Joanne Bridget Hall, Associate Solicitor at Major Family Law, Ponteland, NE20 9SU. T: 01661 82 45 82 Twitter@1JoHall