Cohabitees (4)

When unmarried couples cohabit and own a property there are different ways in which they can choose to own that property. Property rights for unmarried couples are very different from those for a married couple. For example, a man might own a property in his own name and then move his girlfriend in. They do not marry or enter into a civil partnership and the property remains in the man’s name. They might have children together and live together for many years. The relationship then breaks down and the woman wants to know what her rights are.

“I have been in a relationship for 6 years and have lived with my partner for 6 years in a house owned by him before we met and still in his name. It is a four bed detached house. We have a little girl. I would like to stay in the house with our daughter. What I need to know is what are my chances of staying in the home.”

The answer is that her chances of staying in the house on a long term basis are minimal. She certainly has no chance of having the house transferred into her sole name (as the courts might easily order if this was a divorce situation). The fact of the matter is that the house is the man’s, they are unmarried, not in a civil partnership and the courts do not have the power to alter property rights in this case. Unless the man agrees voluntarily to let them remain in the house he can recover possession of his property in due course and the woman will have no claim on the property at all. That is not to say he can necessarily recover the property immediately. A court might refuse to order the mother to vacate the property while it is needed as a home for a dependent child. But, sooner or later, the child will cease to be dependent.

The man in this case is certainly obliged to maintain his child by making maintenance payments but he is not obliged to pay any maintenance to the child’s mother for her own benefit because they were not man and wife or civil partners and nor does she personally have any claim on his capital.

Now when this situation arises there can often be complications. For instance, although the legal title to a property may be vested in one person another person may have acquired a legal interest in that property as a result of contributing financially to its purchase. Say, for instance, in the above case the woman had paid £20,000 to have a new extension put on the house. That might have given her a proprietary interest in a proportion of the property and to that extent she may have become a joint owner. She would not be an equal joint owner under those circumstances but she might have acquired a proprietary interest in the property. The longer a relationship lasts the more likely it is that this sort of complication will arise.

However, it is important to understand that only significant contributions to the purchase or improvement of the property can have this effect. It is not good enough to say, “Well, I did the housekeeping for twenty years. Surely that entitles me to a share of the property?”. No, it doesn’t. What is required is a contribution which can be quantified in terms of money. This might arise by way of contribution to the mortgage but there has to be some such contribution in order to successfully raise a claim against the property.

In circumstances such as the the above if one looks at it from the  perspective of the person whose name is on the title deeds what he/she must do in order to make sure that his/her partner does not acquire any proprietary interest in the property is to make sure that the property is fully paid for by  and that  can be proved  if necessary. The title holder must not allow the partner to make direct contributions to the mortgage or to pay for significant improvements to the property. If either is permitted  then the sole ownership of the house is at risk.

Looked at from the point of view of the woman in the example given above she might want to establish some sort of right to the property either by formally becoming a joint owner of it or entering into a deed of trust which sets out her interest if any. Unless and until she does one of these things her interest in the property is tenuous so long as she has not contributed financially to its purchase, it is in her partner’s sole name and they are unmarried and not in a civil partnership. It is, incidentally, worth mentioning that the same rules also apply to same sex relationships.

Do please read on to find out more about unmarried couples rights.


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