The principles which deal with the division of assets when unmarried couples separate

A popular myth has persisted for years that if a couple live together for, say, six months, three years, five years etc, they automatically acquire rights against the other. That is not the case. Common-law marriage was actually abolished in 1753.

If you live with someone and your relationship ends the only legal claims that you may be able to make are as follows:

  • in respect of the family home – the court will need to consider how the property is legally owned by you and your former cohabitee (see below)
  • child support – an application can be made by you to the Child Support Agency for child maintenance
  • in some circumstances you can make a claim for additional financial support for your child under the Children Act 1989 (see below)

The court does not have the power to order your former cohabitee to pay maintenance to you for your benefit or vice versa. Only child maintenance can be ordered, which is often dealt with through the Child Support Agency (CSA). Likewise, the court does not have the power to order that your former cohabitee provide you with a lump sum or a pension sharing order.

Advice should however be taken if you or your former cohabitee are Scottish and one of you has retained a Scottish domicile. This is because the law in Scotland changed in 2006 and now gives financial rights to former cohabitees. It may be possible to bring a claim against your former cohabitee in Scotland, even if a claim could not be brought in England or Wales.