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Cohabitation disputes

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Common law husband or wife is just a reference, not a legal title and has no legal status. Yet many unmarried couples assume that if they live together for a number of years, automatically they acquire similar rights and claims to those of married couples. 

When a cohabiting relationship breaks down, there is no specific law which governs how to approach a dispute between the parties. They must do their best to negotiate or agree how to divide their assets, and consider how property or trust laws may apply. 

Often there is a property involved.  If it is registered in joint names, then the presumption is that the parties own it in equal shares. But if one party doesn’t agree to sell; believes they’ve made a greater financial contribution and seeks a share of more than one half; and/or simply won’t move out, then a dispute arises. If the property is registered in the sole name of one party, the person not named will have to prove they are entitled to a share of capital. Proof relies mainly upon financial contribution and the intention of the parties.  Other factors, such as the length of time cohabiting; looking after the children; or running the household are not, by themselves, a basis of financial entitlement. 

The act which governs how to make an application to the court to address a property dispute in this type of case is the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996. The process is complex and can be costly, so you should seek advice early on about your particular circumstances. 

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