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Marriage vs. Cohabitation

Although it is much more common for couples to live together these days the law still treats them very differently from married couples. This is particularly the case in relation to ownership of property and entitlement to share in specific benefits.

Married couples, upon divorce have their financial claims determined by an act of Parliament which sets out what the Court has to take into account when considering the division of matrimonial assets. (We have dealt with this previously in some detail within this publication).

Unmarried couples however upon breakdown of the relationship are governed by Property Law. This largely depends on the Parties intentions at the time the property was purchased. If there is a dispute then another act of Parliament makes provision to allow an owner to apply to the court to either enable or prevent a sale of the property.

The Court can also make a declaration confirming the extent of a person’s interest in the property. The basic law is that where there is joint ownership of the property there will be a presumption of equal share. However it is possible to rebut that presumption taking into account all of the circumstances in the case and award one party a greater share.

The Court must take into consideration all relevant factors including:
a) the intentions of the parties when the property was purchased.      
b) the purpose for which the property was purchased.      
c) whether there are any children occupying the property.

In the event there are children occupying the property it is possible to make an application under the Children Act of 1989 to postpone any sale of property on the basis that the children need to occupy the property as their home. It is important to note however that even if such an application is successful on eventual sale each party will still only be entitled to the same share they owned at the time of separation.

Unlike married couples cohabitees have no rights to apply for maintenance payments for themselves or any right to apply for a share of their partner’s pension regardless of the length of the relationship. The only possible common factor that exists whether married or simply living together is that each case will be determined upon their specific circumstances.