My common-law wife and I…

We’ve been together for ages.  It’s like we’re married, really.  We both own the house.  What’s a marriage certificate – it’s just a piece of paper, isn’t it?

We can advise you on the law.  We cannot advise you on how to live your own life.  And we certainly wouldn’t dream of advising you whether or not you should get married!

But when it comes to separation, we can tell you some of the consequences of being married, and of not being married.  And it’s when parties separate that the differences become particularly noticeable.

If you are married, when you divorce there are a number of factors which the court will consider when it comes to a fair division of your assets.  It is open to you to agree how your assets should be split.  Indeed, in almost every situation it will be in your interests for you to agree this.  But, if you cannot agree, the court can be asked to step in and decide matters for you.  Even if you do agree, the court must give its approval to your decision before it is finalised.

After a long marriage, there is a presumption (subject to a number of factors, including the particular needs of the parties and the needs of any children) that the matrimonial assets will be shared.

The court has far-reaching powers to order that assets are shared, or transferred from one party to another, or sold.

But if you separate after living together, the powers of the court are very different.  In this case, there is no presumption of sharing.

Of course, you cannot avoid your financial obligations towards your children.  But there may be circumstances in which one party, often the financially weaker party, is left with nothing.

If you have been living in your boyfriend’s house, but you did not help buy the house, you may have to leave the house, and walk away with nothing.

Former cohabitants who own property in joint names may ask the court to order the sale, or to distribute the proceeds of sale.  But this will be according to the financial contributions the parties made, not according to their financial need.

If your relationship is breaking down, whether or not you were married, it may be prudent for you to take legal advice sooner rather than later, to protect your financial position.  We offer a free no-obligation 30-minute consultation, and can discuss your options with you.

Ruth Jackson, a barrister specialising in family law, has prepared a series of articles covering answers to some of the most common problems in family law.  We hope that these will help you with some of the common problems which barristers and solicitors see in practice. 

Of course, there are limits to what we can do on a website. We cannot give specific advice in such articles, and you should take your own legal advice before relying on what is written. 

If you wish to consult us about your problem, we offer a free 30-minute, no obligation, appointment.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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