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Unmarried Relationships

You don’t have to go through the formality of a divorce or dissolution to end your relationship if you are unmarried and have not been through a civil partnership. But sorting financial issues out can be more difficult.


Sorting out finances on a divorce is complicated enough, but the basic principles are simple. If the parties can’t agree how to share their assets or income the divorce court judge has to decide what is fair. And the judge, sitting in the divorce court, has unique powers to take assets and money away from one party and give them to the other party to create the arrangement which that judge thinks is fair.


But none of that applies between unmarried couples. The law aims simply to decide who owns what, and once that has been done there is very little scope to change the shares of ownership. So the question becomes not what is fair, but who owns what? And it can be a very difficult question to answer

Unmarried couples and maintenance.


Unmarried couples are treated very much the same as married couples, when it comes to paying maintenance for their children. But there is no legally enforceable obligation to pay maintenance to a former partner for himself/herself if you have not been married. That is so even if your relationship has been very long and he or she has become an actually dependent on you.

Property disputes between unmarried couples


Unmarried couples can have disputes about any kind of asset, including savings and businesses. But it is most commonly about their home. If they can’t agree the law can become very complicated, and if you are facing this issue you need to get individual advice about your own situation.


The first place to look is the Land Registry, where the property title will give the name of the “registered proprietors”. There may be one or more registered proprietor, with a maximum of four. The registered proprietor is assumed to be the owner of the property, and if there are two registered proprietors they are assumed to share it. But that is not the end of the matter by any means.


If both parties are registered proprietors, then there may be a dispute about who owns what share. Those disputes can become very technical.

If only one party is the registered proprietor, the other party may be able to show that, nevertheless s/he owns a share of the equity. This is a very difficult and complex legal process. And if there is no agreement s/he will have to apply to the court for a formal declaration.


It is not enough for the person who is not a registered proprietor to show that s/he has lived with the registered proprietor in a cohabiting relationship, even if that relationship has lasted for many years. Essentially s/he will have to show that she made a direct financial contribution towards the original purchase of the property (e.g. by contributing part of the deposit) or otherwise that there was a mutual agreement that the equity would be shared, and critically that s/he then “acted to her detriment” on the basis of that agreement. That could take the form, for example, of making financial contributions towards the upkeep of the property, or towards the mortgage instalments.


This is a very technical area of the law, and you should take proper advice about your own situation if you have any questions at all.


If you are about to buy a home with a partner, or s/he is moving in to your home, you would be wise to have clear cohabitation agreement  to avoid possible disputes in the future.

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