There is trend for couples to cohabit as opposed to marry. If you are married any disputes will be dealt with as part of the divorce proceedings and are governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. If you are cohabiting, then any disputes about property or assets owned by the parties will be dealt with by the relevant property or trust law mainly Trusts of land and Appointment of Trustee’s Act 1996 (TLATA).
The difference between the two is as a spouse you are likely to have more rights to matrimonial assets as opposed to a cohabitee which is discriminatory towards unmarried couples. There have been strong calls for the government to change the law on cohabitation. Until then the general principles the court apply when dealing with cohabitation disputes are:
- In whose name is the property or asset registered? Is there a Trust Deed? This will be the starting point in any cohabitation dispute. It will show how the parties intended to hold the property/asset at date of purchase. The fact that the property is held in one party’s name does not prevent the other cohabitee from making a claim (see below).
- The court may consider any financial contributions made. For example, if you contributed towards the deposit, mortgage and bills.
- Did any party act to their detriment based upon a promise given by the other party? If you built an extension to the property or undertook major refurbishment works which increased the value of the property this could be considered.
- If there is a minor child involved, the court is unlikely to make an order for sale of a property if such property is needed for the child and the court is likely to postpone any sale until the child turns 18.
This is a complex area of the law and specialist advice should be sought.