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Cohabitation Dispute Resolution
Cohabiting couples have far fewer rights than married couples. When a relationship breaks down, it can result in disagreements, particularly in respect of property.
It is common for couples to live together for long periods, and own property together, without marrying. If they separate, it can be difficult to resolve the property ownership issue. A cohabitee does not enjoy the same rights as a spouse or civil partner and their entitlement relies on laws of property, and not on principles of fairness.
There are ways in which a claim can be brought by someone who is neither married nor a civil partner, however. If you believe you are entitled to a share in a property that you have lived in or owned with a former partner, you are advised to seek legal advice.
At Johnson Astills, our Dispute Resolution team regularly advises and represents clients who have separated from the person they were living with. We are friendly and approachable and can advise you of your rights and discuss your options with you.
As well as providing outstanding service, our Dispute Resolution team have genuine legal expertise.
Most cohabitation disputes arise when a couple separates and one of them is asked to leave the home that they shared together. If the property is jointly owned, you may want to sell so that you can realise your share and be released from a mortgage. Alternatively, if you are not a legal owner, you may want to find out if you can claim a beneficial interest in the property, because you contributed to the property during the relationship.
There are a number of ways to try to resolve these types of cohabitation disputes. As a last resort, you may be able to make an application to the court.
Our approach to dispute resolution
At Johnson Astills, we try wherever possible to resolve cohabitation disputes without resorting to court proceedings.
If you ask us to represent you, we will endeavour to negotiate a settlement, and will consider Alternative Dispute Resolution, including mediation, as a means of doing so.
If matters cannot be resolved through negotiation or mediation we can assist with an application to the court for a declaration of your interest in the property and/or an order that it is sold, so that you can realise your interest and be released from a mortgage.
For more information, see our Dispute Resolution page.
Cohabitation dispute resolution FAQs
What rights do I have if I split up with my partner?
If you own a property with your former partner, you are equally entitled to access and live in it. This means that one owner is not entitled to change the locks and exclude the other party from the property.
What share of the property am I entitled to?
What share a co-owner is entitled to is not determined by rules of fairness. This means that a party who made a greater contribution is not automatically entitled to a greater share of the proceeds when the property is sold.
Who will be entitled to what will largely depend on whether you are ‘joint tenants’ or ‘tenants in common’. If you are joint tenants, the presumption is that you would split the proceeds of sale equally. If you are tenants in common, your intention at the time of purchase will be relevant and there may be scope to depart from an equal split. If you made a declaration that you were ‘tenants in common in equal shares’ at the time of purchase, this can be hard to challenge.
If the property you lived in is in your former partner’s sole name, it can be very difficult to persuade a court that you are entitled to a share of the equity, and you will need to satisfy the court that it was intended by both of you that you would have an interest in the property despite the fact that your name is not on the title deeds. The court will take into account things like who paid the deposit, who paid the mortgage, who funded any improvement/building works etc and what promises were made.
What rights do I have as a common law spouse?
There is no such thing as a common law marriage or common law spouse, and it is a myth that cohabiting partners accrue similar rights to married couples/civil partners simply because they have lived together over a period of time.
If you are not married, the best way to protect yourself is to enter into a cohabitation agreement and/or declaration of trust
What happens if your partner dies and you are not married?
What happens to property owned by a cohabiting couple will depend how it was held.
If you and your partner were joint tenants, their share of the property will pass automatically to you. However, if you and your cohabitee were tenants in common, their share will form part of their estate. If they made a Will, that will determine who inherits their estate. If they did not make a Will, the Rules of Intestacy will apply.
Unlike spouses and civil partners, cohabitees do not inherit under the Rules of Intestacy, and so you will have no automatic entitlement to the property or any other part of your partner’s estate.
This can cause problems if the person/people that do inherit want to realise their interest, by a sale of the property.
Matters can sometimes be dealt with amicably through negotiation, but if this is not possible you may be able to make claim on the estate. There is a strict limitation period (6 months from a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration) and so it is important to seek legal advice straight away to ensure that your rights and interests are protected.
Contact our cohabitation dispute resolution solicitors in Leicester & Loughborough
Our cohabitation dispute solicitors provide straightforward, empathetic legal advice and support to clients across Leicestershire and the East Midlands from our two local offices in Leicester or Loughborough.