What is a Cohabitation Dispute?

Oct 19, 2023   ·   5 minute read
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Family law disputes come in all shapes and sizes. It may be a dispute between a divorcing couple trying to reach a financial settlement or grandparents seeking a child arrangement order so they can get to see their grandchild or a parent terrified that their ex-partner intends to leave the UK with their son or daughter.

Increasingly, family law disputes involve cohabiting couples. The couple may be heterosexual or LGBTQI+ and they may or may not have children with disagreements bubbling away over what parenting arrangements are in the child’s best interests.

As a specialist firm of Northwest family law solicitors, we can advise you on how best to resolve a cohabitation dispute and help you understand your legal rights and options.

For expert family law advice call our team or complete our online enquiry form.

What is a cohabitation dispute?

To a family lawyer, a cohabitation dispute can be many things as it encompasses any falling out between a couple who are not married and who are not in a civil partnership.

A cohabitation dispute can be limited to the arrangements for the children or relate to money and property or both.

Cohabitation disputes over children law issues can involve:

  • Disputes over the parent the children will live with after the separation
  • Contact arrangements
  • Applications for child arrangement orders to sort out residence and contact
  • Disputes over whether both parents have parental responsibility for their children
  • Disputes over the exercise of parental responsibility, such as choice of school
  • International family issues, such as one parent wanting to move overseas with the children and the other parent objecting
  • Child support payments
  • Top-up child support through a court order (where the parent paying child support is a high earner)
  • School fee orders to pay for private school fees
  • Requests for lump sum orders to meet the needs of dependent children
  • Requests for housing for children whilst the children are still at school or university

Non-children cohabitation disputes normally centre on property, such as ownership of property. This could be the family home or a buy-to-let property portfolio or a family business.

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How do you resolve a cohabitation dispute?

The first step in resolving a cohabitation dispute is to check and see if a cohabitation agreement was signed. If an agreement was prepared, it may set out the parties’ rights to property and what should happen if there is a dispute. For example, the agreement may say that one partner will keep the property and the other must leave the property if the relationship ends.

A cohabitation agreement can save you a lot of time and money as it records your agreement. If you did not sign a cohabitation agreement then you may still be able to resolve and agree on the financial and practical issues relating to your separation. You may be able to do this by:

  • Solicitor negotiations
  • Roundtable meetings
  • Collaborative law
  • Arbitration
  • The Evolve Family Law One Lawyer service

How does a court resolve a cohabitation dispute?

If you cannot reach an agreement you may need to start or respond to court proceedings. Unlike a divorce, a court decides a money or property related cohabitation dispute based on property and trust law. Therefore, the court has less discretion to do what is ‘right’. In divorce financial settlement proceedings the court looks at fairness rather than strict legal and property rights.

Talk to a family solicitor about your cohabitation rights

If you are in a cohabiting relationship, it’s important to speak to a family law solicitor so you understand your rights. Many people assume that the rights of a cohabitee are the same as a husband or wife or civil partner. They are not.

A cohabitee has the same rights as a married person if they are subject to domestic violence in a family relationship and a cohabitee has similar rights if there is a children law dispute over the arrangements for the children.

Property law rights between cohabiting and married couples are very different. A cohabitee can’t claim spousal maintenance or a share of their partner’s pension. Nor can they claim a share in property or other assets unless they have a legal or beneficial interest in it or they can make a claim based on the needs of a dependent child for housing. This is a complicated area of law. For example, your partner may legally own the family home but the other partner may have a financial claim through property or trust law. That claim gives them a beneficial interest in the property. The court could order the sale or transfer of the property to the non-legal owner.

That’s why it’s important to understand your legal rights as a cohabitee. Unfortunately, many people assume they are entitled to nothing as they weren’t married or their name wasn’t on the title deeds to the family home. Whatever your circumstances it is best to speak to a family law solicitor if you are leaving a cohabiting relationship and you want to understand your rights and options.

For expert family law advice call our team for an appointment or complete our online enquiry form.