Cohabitation - There is no such thing as 50:50 - The Law House Family Law Solicitors, London & Peterborough


Cohabitation – There is no such thing as 50:50

By in Family Law Category on September 19th, 2017

The Cohabitation Myth

I am amazed time and time again about the whole myth around cohabitation. If I did a straw poll today, of my friends and family, I have no doubt that most of them believe cohabitants have the same rights as married people. Despite the fact that so much information is available online to contradict this, they continue to believe the same thing, cohabitation is as good as marriage in terms of rights.

Cohabitation and Separation

Well, wake up and smell the coffee. There has been a case which has just been dealt with and which may give some of you some sleepless nights! The outcome of the case did not surprise me but if you are anything like my family and friends, you really need to pay attention! It is a case about a broken relationship. It started as happy and full of hope and expectation….you get the picture. They did not marry. The brought different things to the relationship. One brought more money and one grew a business from scratch with the help of the other.  The outcome does not read well for the “weaker” party!

Cohabitation – no rights reality

People who live together do not necessarily have the same rights as married people or civil partners. In fact, the sad reality is, they have very limited rights. Despite the unfairness of the treatment of unmarried couples, no recent government has set aside the necessary Parliament time to review and change the law relating to cohabitation. This means that for now, cohabitants do not have the same rights as married people or civil partners.

Take Gillian Turner and Michael Durant….

In this most recent case, the couple, Gillian Turner and Michael Durant, were in a relationship from the late 1980s to 2014. They had a son together who is now an adult. During the course of the relationship, Michael built up a very successful property business which was valued in the several millions. Gillian claims that she gave her life savings to Michael to build the company and that he had promised her half the business. However, there was nothing in writing, no documents at all. Ultimately, after hearing evidence from both of them, the Judge decided that he did not believe Gillian and did not believe that Michael had made a promise to her about half the business. I am obviously summarising what was probably a few days of evidence being given in some detail. But you get the gist…

Gillian came away with nothing from the business. On hearing the judgment she collapsed in Court and had to receive emergency medical treatment in Court. The fact that she had no documents to back up her position worked against her.

The Judgment

There are so many things that I can say about this case but I’ll try and be brief.
There is an urgent need to reconsider the position but only Parliament can do this. In the meantime, if Gillian had come to see me when her relationship was new, I would have given her the following advice:

1. If a person is in a relationship but unmarried, it does not automatically follow that he/she will have a 50% share in the assets. The extent of any interest depends on who owns the assets, how they were purchased, what was agreed at the time of purchase, and the supporting documents.

2. However, if the couple are married or in a civil partnership, the outcome is very different. It is highly likely that the business would be considered a joint asset, even if it is in the name of one person only. Each spouse would be given a share in the business by virtue of their marriage.

3. If Gillian had retained documents and was able to show she had an agreement with her ex partner, the Court may have given her an interest in the business because of promises made to her which she relied upon; and because of contributions she may have made to the business.

4. If the couple were married, the Court is likely to award both spouses or civil partners an interest in the business, even in the absence of documentary evidence.

The outcome of this case may seem unfair but the law relating to cohabitation is very clear…by not being clear at all! Unlike the legislation relating to marriage or civil partnership, there is no one piece of legislation dealing with cohabitation. Instead, any possible claims by former partners fall under the law relating to property and to trusts. Both of these can be very complex and of course apply to everyone, regardless of their relationship status. The legislation is not specifically written for people who live together, unlike matrimonial legislation.

Cohabitation – what you should do before you live together!!!!

There is an urgent need to reconsider the position but only Parliament can do this. In the meantime, if Gillian had come to see me when her relationship was new, I would have given her the following advice:

    1. Ideally, have a cohabitation agreement drawn up that can deal with most outcomes.

    2. If you start a joint venture, make sure it is in joint names or that you are a joint shareholder in the business.

    3. If you buy property together, it should be in joint names. If you have paid different amounts towards the deposit, record this in a trust deed.

    4. If you live with your partner in his property, but he agrees you have a share in the property, record this in writing. You should preferably register a notice against the title of the property to reflect your interest in it.

    5. If you make a contribution towards structural repairs in the property, retain the receipts and if you and your partner have an agreement about this, record it. This could be an agreement or even an email.

And so….

As an unmarried partner, you cannot make any assumptions about your rights. The starting point is that you do not have any rights unless we can find evidence to support you.

To cap it all, Gillian was also asked to pay the man’s legal costs as she has “lost” her application! This amounted to several thousands.

So, if you are thinking of living together and even if you are still in the throes of love, please contact me so we can try and protect you! At worse, everything will work out and you will never need to rely on that protection. But what if?

You can contact me, Venisha Shah, on 020 3150 2525 or at vshah@thelawhouse.com.