Cohabitation disputes

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‘Common law husband/wife’?  It’s just a reference, not a legal title and has no legal status and yet many unmarried couples live with the assumption that if they cohabit for a number of years, they automatically acquire similar rights and claims to those of married couples. 

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

Often there is a property.  If 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 on the title of the property will have to prove that they are entitled to a share of capital. Proof of entitlement relies primarily upon financial contribution only 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 in a cohabitation dispute. 

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, it is complex and can be costly.  You should obtain advice early on about your particular circumstances. 

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