Separation of Unmarried Couples


If your relationship breaks down and you were not married or in a civil partnership, the legal issues you face may be complex. Our talented team of family lawyers has a wealth of experience in navigating this area of family law.

We balance our exceptional legal expertise with care and compassion, delivering carefully crafted solutions whilst managing any emotional impact.

Watch our video on The Rights for Unmarried Couples here.

We will work with you to reach solutions which secure a positive future for you, always in partnership.

Overview →

If you are not married or in a civil partnership and your relationship breaks down, the legal issues that you face could be complex. Contrary to popular belief, couples who cohabit but who are unmarried do not benefit from the same legal rights as married couples when the relationship comes to an end. The concept of ‘common law marriage’ simply does not exist in our legal system.

As the law presently stands, the types of financial claims that can be made by unmarried partners are limited. The absence of legal protection can lead to uncertainty and financial difficulty at the end of the relationship unless a claim can be made with respect to ownership of property or a financial claim on behalf of a child.

Obtaining expert legal advice is crucial to understand what your entitlements may be and how you can protect yourself should your relationship end. Our talented team of family lawyers has a wealth of experience in navigating this area of family law. We balance our exceptional legal expertise with care and compassion, delivering carefully crafted solutions whilst managing any emotional impact.

What Issues Might Arise? →

Financial entitlements

For the large part, financial entitlements available to divorcing married couples do not extend to cohabiting couples who separate, no matter how long the cohabiting relationship has lasted. As a starting point, neither party has any financial responsibility towards the other and each party will leave the relationship with whatever assets are held in their sole name. 

Entitlements to property

When unmarried couples separate, disagreements between former cohabitants can arise in relation to the division of property, such as the home in which the parties lived.

If the couple disagree about the division of property when the relationship comes to an end, an application under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 may be made. For example, although the property may be in the sole name of one party, there may have been a common intention that the other party should have a beneficial interest in the property.

Alternatively, the party without the legal interest in the property may have contributed financially to the property (eg. contributed towards the mortgage or paid for home improvements) and, therefore, may have acquired a beneficial interest in the property. In these situations, expert advice should be taken to determine whether a party can be said to have acquired a beneficial interest.

Issues relating to children

If an agreement cannot be made as to financial provision for children (and financial recourse through the Child Maintenance Service has already been exhausted or does not apply), then an application can be made for financial provision for any children under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989.

Non-financial concerns for children can also arise such as choice of schooling, religious upbringing, matters concerning a child’s health or decisions relating to how much time a child will spend with either parent and with whom that child will live. If an agreement cannot be reached, either parent may apply to the Court for an order to determine the issue at hand.

Our Expertise  →

Unmarried couples can, to an extent, mitigate uncertainty by entering into a cohabitation or relationship agreement or by entering into a declaration of trust to regulate their financial affairs whilst they live together. This can help to identify ownership of property and in what shares any property is to be held. Our team of family law experts has considerable experience in drawing up such documentation which can help to avoid any ambiguity regarding property ownership should the relationship come to an end.

The lack of a family focused legal framework for people who have lived together as cohabitants means that many couples prefer to find solutions in processes such as mediation or through collaborative practice. At FLiP we are uniquely placed to provide the expert help that many couples need to find their own solutions and we do so in a sensible and pragmatic way. 

We will advise you on the range of potential outcomes and what can realistically be achieved, whether or not an application is made to the Court for a judge to decide the matter. Where possible, we aim to resolve such disputes away from the Court but we recognise that this is not always possible.

Whatever process option is chosen, we will work with you to offer creative strategies to achieve the very best settlement for you.

Our People


We have some of the very best London divorce lawyers and mediators, along with accomplished arbitrators, family consultants and counsellors. There’s no one better to handle your case.

Team of Family Lawyers Talking

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