At Evolve Family Law our family law specialists are members of Resolution, an organization of family justice professionals in the UK.
This week is Resolution’s Awareness Week.
For expert advice on family law call our team of specialist lawyers or complete our online enquiry form.
Resolution Awareness Week
In recent years, the Resolution dialogue surrounding divorce has shifted from a conventional narrative of separation to a more nuanced exploration of relationships and their legal underpinnings.
Once known as Good Divorce Week, an initiative spearheaded by Resolution, the annual event traditionally aimed to promote amicable separations. However, this year the Resolution Awareness Week marks a significant pivot, redirecting attention toward cohabitation and its intersection with UK family law.
A focus on all relationships
Resolution has long been at the forefront of advocating for constructive approaches to divorce. However, recognizing the evolving landscape of relationships in the UK, the focus has expanded beyond divorce to encompass the dynamics of cohabitation.
The renaming of the awareness raising event from Good Divorce Week to a more encompassing theme signifies a broader perspective that goes beyond divorce itself. This shift acknowledges that relationships come in various forms and that understanding the legal implications of cohabitation or the nuances of LGBTQI+ relationships is just as crucial as navigating the complexities of divorce.
Cohabitation, while increasingly prevalent, lacks the legal structure and statutory protections that marriage or civil partnership offers. This change in focus by Resolution during what was once Good Divorce Week represents a pivotal moment in acknowledging the need for clarity and legal recognition for individuals in cohabiting and non-traditional relationships.
The Resolution awareness campaign aims to dispel misconceptions surrounding cohabitation and educate individuals about their legal rights and responsibilities.
Central to this initiative is the spotlight on the absence of automatic legal protection for cohabiting couples in the event of separation. Resolution wants to highlight the importance of seeking legal advice and making sure cohabiting couples enter into cohabitation agreements.
The call for cohabitation reform
Resolution's initiative aligns with ongoing discussions within legal circles advocating for reforms that bridge the gap between marriage and cohabitation in terms of legal rights. The goal is to ensure that individuals in cohabiting relationships have access to legal protections and equitable resolutions, akin to those in marital unions. That is becoming increasingly important with the rise in cohabitation. In 2021 there were reportedly 3.6 million cohabiting couples.
By extending its focus beyond divorce, Resolution's initiative reflects a holistic approach to relationships and family law. It serves as a platform to address the evolving nature of partnerships and strives to create a more informed, fair, and supportive legal landscape for all individuals, irrespective of their relationship status.
Evolving family law
In essence, the evolution of Good Divorce Week into a broader exploration of cohabitation within UK family law signifies a progressive step toward acknowledging the diverse forms of relationships. Through education, advocacy, and potential legal reforms, this initiative aims to ensure that individuals in cohabiting relationships are empowered and protected within the legal framework, fostering a culture of understanding and fairness in modern relationships.
How Evolve Family Law can help you
At Evolve Family Law our specialist family lawyers can assist you with all your family law needs if you are in a cohabiting relationship, including:
Declarations of trust
Children law and parental responsibility advice
Cohabiting relationships and claims on separation
Financial and property claims
Children financial claims for child support, school fees or assistance with housing dependent children
Wills for cohabiting couples
Lasting Powers of Attorney
Estate claims and inheritance disputes advice if you are a cohabitee who was not included in your partner’s Will or need to make a claim because you are not classed as a relative of your loved one under intestacy rules
It is best to talk to one of our solicitors about your cohabitation rights before you find yourself really needing an expert lawyer. For example, understanding property ownership and your rights under a cohabitation agreement could avoid expensive court proceedings if you split up from your cohabitee. For example, understanding that if your partner does not make a Will, you will not inherit anything under intestacy rules may encourage both you and your cohabitee to sign Wills and do some estate planning to protect your family.
We can help you resolve property-related or children focussed cohabitation disputes through:
The Evolve Family Law One Lawyer service
For expert advice on family law complete our online enquiry form.
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
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.
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:
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.
As family law solicitors we are often asked whether it is OK to change the locks to the family home. Sometimes we are asked this question before a husband, wife, civil partner or unmarried partner has decided to separate. On other occasions, the locks have already been changed and an ex-partner has already been excluded from what was their family home.
For expert advice on family law call our team of specialist divorce lawyers or complete our online enquiry form.
Separation and changing the locks
Locks are a hot topic as emotions, trust, and control issues can all be engaged when the subject of locks and access to the family home is mentioned.
A lot of people assume that if the locks to the family home are changed that means the excluded spouse, civil partner, or cohabitee loses their legal rights or financial claims over the property. That assumption isn’t correct.
A change of locks does not confer ownership of a property on the spouse or partner who now controls access to the property. Your property rights will depend on your legal status – whether you are a spouse or civil partner or whether you were in an unmarried relationship. For spouses and civil partners, property rights stem from family law. For unmarried couples, their family home rights stem from an interpretation of property and trust law.
If you cannot agree with your partner on whether a house should be sold, or transferred to you or your ex-partner, then the court can decide on the appropriate order. In urgent cases involving domestic violence or abuse, the court can make a temporary injunction order to exclude a partner from the property. The court can then decide on long-term property ownership at a later date.
Changing the locks if you own the property
Some people assume that if they own the family home in their sole name, they can change the locks and exclude a spouse. That is not right. A spouse has a right of occupation in a family home, whether the property is owned in joint names or not. Whether or not the locks have been changed any financial claims to the house continue until there is an agreement or a family court order.
Another common assumption is that it is OK to change locks once a spouse has left the family home as once the decision to leave has been made by them then they cannot change their mind and come back. That is not correct either.
In some situations, a homeowner may ask their family law solicitor about changing locks as they want to feel in control of a property. In other cases, there are genuine worries either over privacy or personal security. If it is accepted that one spouse should leave the property then it is usual to agree that, whether they retain the key or not, they will only return at an agreed time and for a reason. For example, to collect remaining items.
If there are concerns about personal safety and domestic violence the court can make an injunction order setting out who can occupy a family home until a long-term decision is made on whether or not the house should be sold or transferred to one spouse or partner.
Changing the locks when you have children
Where there are children there is often an argument that a spouse or partner should retain a key so that they can come and go to see the children. Whether that works all depends on how a couple has managed their separation. In some scenarios, both adults and children are comfortable with mum or dad returning to put children to bed with a book or to babysit but, in other families, continued key access can give very mixed messages to both adults and children and cause anxiety.
It is important to talk to a family law solicitor about property ownership and locks and to reach an agreement on whether locks are changed or not. You may need to discuss whether you or your ex-partner can get access to the property until the financial settlement is reached.
Locks and reaching an agreement over the family home
The hot topic of locks should not distract from what is often the equally emotional but trickier issue of sorting out what will happen long-term with the family home.
The obtaining of estate agent appraisals and exploration of mortgage options enables a separated couple to make well-informed decisions about what they want to happen to the family home on a long-term basis. Those decisions can be made by the couple with the help of their family law solicitor or during family mediation.
If an agreement cannot be reached then whether you are a spouse, civil partner, or former cohabitee, the family court can be asked to sort out who is entitled to enter the property and live in it on a short and long-term basis. What is important to realise is that changing the locks to a family home does not confer property ownership as that is all down to agreement or the court order.
For expert advice on family law call our team of specialist divorce lawyers or complete our online enquiry form.
As specialist family law solicitors, we get to deal with the fallout when a cohabiting couple separates and can't reach an agreement over whether their family home should be sold, or how the equity should be split, or whether the house should be transferred to one of them.
Court proceedings over property ownership can be protracted and expensive as the court assesses property and trust rights. Potentially your family law solicitors have to go back years to gather evidence on who paid the deposit, mortgage, or contributed to the house renovation costs. This hassle and cost may be avoided if you sign a cohabitation agreement.
For help from expert family lawyers call our team of specialist family lawyers or complete our online enquiry form.
When do you need a cohabitation agreement?
Most people think you only need a cohabitation agreement if you are buying a family home with a partner. That’s not the case. You need a cohabitation agreement in a range of different circumstances, such as:
Buying a house in your sole name but your partner intends to live with you at your house
You own a house and your partner is moving in with you
You jointly own a house with your partner but your personal or financial circumstances are changing. For example, you have inherited some money and intend to pay the mortgage off with your inheritance
You are going to jointly buy a property with your partner and you are contributing different amounts of money towards the deposit, or one of you is getting money from family to pay the deposit, or one of you will be paying all or a larger percentage of the mortgage and household bills
There are many other reasons why a couple may need a cohabitation agreement. That is why, if you are thinking of buying a property or you have formed a new relationship, it is sensible to ask the question ‘do I need a cohabitation agreement?’ and to get the question answered by an expert family solicitor.
You may think that a family solicitor is trying to sell you something that you don’t really need as most people don’t realise (until it is too late) that if your partner moves into your house, they have a potential claim over the property under property or trust law even though their name is not on the title deeds. Equally, if you have been in an unmarried relationship for many years, you may have no rights to a share in the equity in your partner’s property because of the complexities of property and trust law.
What goes into a cohabitation agreement?
A cohabitation agreement can be as broad or as detailed as you chose. If a partner is moving into your house your agreement could say that your partner will not have a beneficial interest in your property even if they contribute to the mortgage or renovation costs unless you sign another cohabitation agreement setting out their interest in your property. That type of cohabitation agreement minimises the risk of your partner claiming they have a beneficial interest in the property because you took money off them as rent and payment towards household bills but, after you split up, your ex alleges their monthly contribution paid towards the mortgage so they have a claim over the equity in the property.
If you are buying a property jointly with your unmarried partner then your cohabitation agreement could record the detail of who paid the deposit, how the mortgage payments will be split, and other details, so you avoid having to get information and paperwork many years later to prove you paid the majority of the deposit and mortgage or to try and prove that it was agreed that you would get 70% of the equity because it was your inheritance from your grandmother that enabled you to pay the deposit and stamp duty.
It pays for an expert family solicitor to talk to you about your options and to prepare a bespoke cohabitation agreement for you. Most people assume that a cohabitation agreement has to be a standard document but it can be created to meet your relationship and property needs and be as straightforward or as complicated as you want to make it.
Can a cohabitation agreement be changed?
Some couples are reluctant to sign a cohabitation agreement because they think that circumstances may change. For example, if your partner is moving into your house the initial intention may be that the house will remain yours but that may change over time if you want to renovate or extend the property. Alternatively, once your relationship is established you may want your partner to share the mortgage payments with you, whilst still wanting to protect the equity that you built up in the property before your partner moved in with you.
Cohabitation agreements can be changed as your relationship develops or circumstances change but it is essential to record your revised agreement in a new document. That’s because most cohabitation agreements say any verbal promises or assurances will not carry any weight and any changes to your original agreement must be in a deed. A signed agreement avoids expensive court proceedings over whether conversations occurred, whether you really intended to give your partner an increased beneficial or property interest, or whether your partner misinterpreted your conversation or twisted it to their advantage.
If I don’t sign a cohabitation agreement, is the jointly owned house half mine?
The house isn’t necessarily half yours if you don’t sign a cohabitation agreement. It all depends on how the house was legally purchased (was the family home bought as joint tenants or tenants in common) and what your intentions were. Not having a cohabitation agreement can result in expensive court proceedings if one partner decides they want to claim half the house when they didn’t pay half towards the deposit or if one partner wants more than half the equity in the family home because they paid for the extension or for the new bathroom. A cohabitation agreement will cover who gets what percentage of equity in the house if it has to be sold. A bespoke agreement can also cater for one partner paying for renovations or paying off the mortgage.
Key points on a cohabitation agreement
Even if a house, investment, or business asset is owned by one partner, the other party to the relationship can still make a property or financial claim based on verbal or written promises, trust, and property law. The cost, risks, and inherent uncertainty of court litigation can be avoided, or significantly reduced, by a cohabitation agreement.
For help from expert family lawyers call our team of specialist family lawyers or complete our online enquiry form.
The family law solicitors at Evolve Family Law are regularly consulted about common law marriage rights by unmarried partners and former cohabitees. In this article, we look at the myth of common-law marriage.
For expert family law advice call our team of specialist family lawyers or complete our online enquiry form.
What is common law marriage?
Common law marriage is a myth. In English law, common law marriage is not a legally recognised concept. You do not get rights as a cohabitee because you are in a common-law marriage. An unmarried relationship does not become a common law marriage because of the number of years you have been living together. You do not get common law marriage status whether you have been in a cohabiting relationship for 2 years or 20 years.
If you don’t get cohabitation rights through the concept of a common-law marriage, how do you get cohabitation rights? Family lawyers say there are ways to get rights but it is best to understand how you can get those rights before you decide to move in together, have children or elect not to enter into a civil partnership or get married. Unfortunately, too many unmarried couples only find out about their cohabitation rights (or lack of them) after they split up from their partner.
As an unmarried partner, your cohabitation rights can come through a variety of means, including:
Joint property ownership – you can jointly own property either as tenants in common or joint tenants. The way you own property can have a significant impact on what happens to the property if you split up or if one of you passes away. That’s why it is best to take family law legal advice before you jointly buy a property as an unmarried couple
Sole property ownership – you can make a claim against a property even if it is owned in the name of your partner. A claim could potentially be made under property or trust law if you can show that you have what is referred to as an equitable interest in the property
A cohabitation agreement or deed of trust – if you reach an agreement with your partner, either at the outset of your relationship or during your relationship, you can set out your agreement and rights in a cohabitation agreement (or deed of trust if the agreement relates solely to a specific property)
If you have dependent children with your unmarried partner, you may also have the right to claim:
Child support through the Child Maintenance Service or the family court if the Child Maintenance Service does not have jurisdiction or if the Child Maintenance Service has made a maximum assessment under their child support formula so you then have the right to apply to the family court for top-up maintenance
Lump sum payment to meet a child’s specific needs
Housing for the child whilst the child is dependent – this means you would no longer be able to stay in the property after the child reaches the age of 18 or 21
School fee payments if your child is being educated privately
Disability-related extra costs of caring for a child with a disability
The bottom line is that however long your unmarried relationship lasted for you do not have the same legal rights as a civil partner or husband or wife. For example, you won't be able to claim:
A share of the family business – unless you are a shareholder or a business partner or you can successfully say that ownership of all or part of the business was held in trust for you
A share of your partner’s pension
A share of investment portfolios held in your partner’s sole name unless you can argue that the investments were held in trust – something that is very hard to do
With unmarried partner disputes, the family court has to follow property and trust law to resolve the dispute over ownership. If you are married or in a civil partnership, the family court looks at a range of factors to achieve fairness. That’s why in divorce proceedings the court can exercise a lot more discretion and there is less likelihood of one partner walking away with nothing after a long relationship. For engaged or married couples who do not like the sound of the family court having such a degree of flexibility in divorce financial settlement proceedings, there is the option of a prenuptial agreement or postnuptial agreement to record how family assets should split if you separate.
Cohabitation rights and estate planning
If an unmarried partner dies without making a will (intestate) the surviving cohabitant has no automatic right to their partner’s estate. They could claim but this involves court proceedings against the deceased’s relatives who have inherited the estate under the intestacy rules. In a relationship without children, this could involve bringing a claim against the estate arguing that your partner’s parents should not inherit under the intestacy rules because your partner had not made reasonable financial provisions for you as their unmarried partner. This is why it is vital that if you are in an unmarried relationship, you and your partner make a Will and estate plan.
Protection for you as a cohabitee
Family lawyers understand that financial hardship on the breakdown of a cohabiting relationship is a realistic possibility in many cases because of decisions made by the couple during the relationship about property ownership. If a married couple make the same property ownership decisions during their relationship the family court has the discretion and power to make orders that it thinks are fair to both husband and wife or both civil partners. In a non-married relationship, a family judge just doesn’t have the same degree of flexibility as the court has to divide the assets of an unmarried couple based on property and trust law rather than housing or other needs.
The best option for cohabitants who are concerned about property issues and protection if they split up from their unmarried partner is to enter into a cohabitation agreement or living together agreement. This document is a form of contract setting out a couple’s decisions about what will happen to their property on separation. It works in a similar way to a prenuptial agreement and if drafted properly by a specialist family lawyer will be upheld by a court. The cohabitation agreement should be accompanied by both cohabitees signing Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney so their estate and future proof planning recognises the importance of their loved ones.
If you would like a cohabitation agreement or need family law advice following a recent separation from your cohabitee then contact Evolve Family Law.
For expert family law advice call our team of specialist family lawyers or complete our online enquiry form.
At Evolve Family Law the family and private client solicitors have often commented on the very different ways that married and cohabiting couples are treated when it comes to UK family law and the laws on Wills and estate planning. The wholly different treatment can create many injustices. The saddest aspect is that when deciding whether to cohabit or get married most couples don’t realise the significance of their choice because they are not family solicitors or private client lawyers. Instead, they make their decision on whether to get married purely on personal preferences without a full appreciation of the legal implications.
Recently one of the perceived injustices has been righted as the Department for Work and Pensions has announced plans to extend bereavement support to cohabiting couples with children.
We are Manchester, Cheshire and Online Family and Private Client Solicitors. For legal help and advice on family law and Wills for cohabiting couples call Evolve Family Law or complete our online enquiry form.
Bereavement support for cohabiting families
You would think that if you were bereaved with dependent children, you would need financial support, whatever the legal status of your relationship.
The law previously said financial help was only available to claim if you were a bereaved parent with dependent children and you were either married or in a civil partnership. You could have been married a month and be able to make a claim but a five or fifteen-year committed cohabiting relationship was not recognised when it came to bereavement help.
The government has now announced that the Widowed Parent’s Allowance and Bereavement Support Payments will be claimable by the cohabiting partner of a deceased who had children living with their partner at the time of the partner’s death.
The announcement may appear to be very limited in scope but it is estimated that more than 22,000 families will be able to claim this bereavement financial support. To be eligible to make a claim a person in a cohabiting relationship with dependent children will just need to have been living with their partner at the time of their partner’s death.
The announcement isn’t law yet. The law will need to be changed by Act of Parliament. However, the government has said that if the law is changed it plans to allow bereaved cohabitees to make backdated claims to the 30 August 2018.
Cohabiting couple advice
If you are in a cohabiting relationship, it remains vital that you understand the basics of how your relationship will be treated in law if your relationship breaks down either because one of you decides to leave or if your partner passes away.
If you are cohabiting with a partner and you split up your rights and financial claims are limited and based on property law. To protect yourself and your children you need to understand your rights and preferably get a cohabitation agreement drawn up to safeguard yourself and your children.
If you are cohabiting it is also vitally important that you each make a Will and power of attorney. That is because, under the law, a cohabitee is not treated as their partner’s next of kin. That means that if your cohabitee dies without leaving a Will you won't receive anything under intestacy rules and instead you will have to make a claim against the estate. Likewise, if your partner loses capacity because of an accident or ill health you won't be able to make decisions on their behalf as under the law you aren’t their next of kin. A health and welfare power of attorney and a financial power of attorney gives you the right to step in and help if your loved one is incapacitated and unable to make their own decisions on what is in their best interests.
How can Evolve Family Law help you?
At Evolve Family Law our family law solicitors and private client lawyers can help you with:
Resolving property and cohabitation claims if a relationship breaks down.
Mediation support if you are going through family mediation because your cohabiting relationship has broken down.
Wills for cohabiting couples including the appointment of testamentary guardians for dependent children.
Advice on estate planning for cohabiting couples including inheritance tax and the importance of pension and insurance nominations.
Powers of attorney.
The creation of life time trusts to protect loved ones
Cohabitees and claims against an estate.
Nowadays we like to think that every type of relationship is valued and that whatever the nature or status of our relationship we are all treated fairly and without any form of discrimination. If you are in an unmarried relationship the world has changed from a generation ago where there was still a social stigma if you were unmarried or had children ‘out of wedlock’. Although the attitude of society has changed to unmarried relationships when it comes to the law on Wills and estate planning the law hasn’t caught up. That’s why it is essential that if you are in an unmarried relationship you understand why you and your partner each need a Will.
Wills and married and unmarried relationships
When it comes to Wills and married and unmarried relationships unless you are a private client solicitor, or have had advice from one, you probably won’t appreciate just what a difference a piece of paper makes, namely your marriage certificate or civil partnership certificate.
If your relationship has the legal status of marriage or civil partnership then as a spouse or civil partner you have:
Intestacy law rights if your husband, wife or civil partner dies without leaving a Will
The right to bring a claim against your husband, wife or civil partner’s estate if they leave a Will but the Will doesn’t make reasonable financial provision for you
Inheritance tax concessions as a spouse or civil partner
Capital gains tax exemptions on transfers between spouses and civil partners.
If you are in an unmarried relationship then on your partner’s death:
If your partner dies without a Will and intestacy rules apply then an unmarried partner will not get an automatic share of the estate. That means you could be left with nothing unless you are able to make a court claim against the estate
An unmarried partner can only bring a claim against the estate of their partner if the partner died intestate without leaving a Will or they left a Will but reasonable financial provision wasn’t made for them in the Will and they fall within one of two categories, namely, a person who for two years prior to the death of their partner was living with the deceased as spouse or civil partner although not married or if the unmarried partner was being maintained by the deceased prior to the deceased’s death. That means an unmarried partner has to either prove a two-year relationship or dependency on the deceased
If an unmarried partner receives an inheritance or lifetime gifts there are no specific inheritance tax or capital gains tax exemptions or allowances.
As cohabitation is an increasingly popular form of relationship and because many adults in the UK don’t have a Will there are many people in unmarried relationships who will be left in a financially vulnerable position on their partner’s death.
Some people assume that they won’t have this problem as they are a ‘common law’ husband or wife or because they have been in a relationship with their partner for over three or five years. These are all myths. There is no legal concept of a common law husband or wife as, in the law, you are either treated as married or unmarried.
What happens if my unmarried partner dies without leaving a Will?
If your unmarried partner dies without making a Will then their estate will pass under intestacy provisions. These are set out in statute and the intestacy rules say that the deceased’s estate will pass to:
The deceased’s child or if there is more than one child the estate will be shared equally between the children (or their descendants). The child or children (or grandchildren) can get their inheritance when they reach the age of eighteen or
If the deceased doesn’t have any children or grandchildren then their estate will pass to their parents or if the parents have already passed away to any siblings or, if none, to more distant relatives.
The intestacy rules can be challenged if you were in a cohabiting relationship for at least two years or you were financially dependent on your partner but that means court litigation against your children or your partner’s relatives.
What happens if an unmarried partner makes a Will?
A Will sets out who should receive an estate or be left a gift out of the estate. If your partner leaves his or her estate to you as you are in an unmarried relationship then the Will makes things a lot less complicated and far less stressful. Instead of having to make a court claim you are entitled to the estate or gift. The legacy can only be challenged if another person successfully brings a claim against the estate, for example, saying that your partner did not have capacity to make the Will at the time that the Will was executed by them because of a dementia diagnosis.
Will solicitors say that if you are in an unmarried relationship it is best to have a conversation with your partner so that you both know where you stand and to make Wills so that you and your family are protected in case your unmarried relationship is brought to an end by the death of your partner.
Our Manchester and Cheshire Will solicitors
Evolve Family Law specialise in family law and private client law advice. For advice about a new Will or changing your existing Will call us or complete our online enquiry form. Evolve Family Law have offices located in Whitefield, North Manchester and Holmes Chapel, Cheshire but our private client and Will solicitors are experienced in working remotely and are offer meetings by telephone appointment or video call.
Child custody and contact is a tricky topic whatever the legal status of the parents of a child. For example, the parents could be unmarried and have never lived together, be a former cohabiting couple, married or divorced or in a civil partnership. In this blog we look at who has custody of a child when the parents aren’t married.
Who has custody of a child?
UK children law doesn’t give a parent custody of their child automatically by virtue of being a parent, whether you are an unmarried or married parent. However, if custody is in dispute, either parent can apply to court for a child arrangements order.
A child arrangements order is a bit like the old custody and contact orders as a child arrangements order sets out the person the child should live with and the contact arrangements with the other parent or other extended family members.
A child arrangements order can be very flexible and can say that there should be equal or shared parenting or, at the other extreme, the court order can say that one parent should have no contact or only indirect or supervised contact with the child.
When making a child arrangements order the court will make an order that the family law judge thinks is in your child’s best interests. The judge will consider arrange of factors when making his or her decision. These factors are known as ‘the welfare checklist’. The checklist includes looking at your child’s wishes and feelings in light of your child’s age and understanding as well as assessing how capable each parent is of meeting your child’s physical and emotional needs.
When considering the welfare checklist and what specific child arrangements order to make the court won't consider the legal status of the parent’s relationship as a very relevant factor in the decision making process. That is because the test for what child arrangements order to make, and who should get custody, is based on what is in your child’s best interests rather than the status of the parent’s relationship.
In today’s age, family judges are of the view that whether you are a married mother or father or unmarried the issue for the court to determine is what custody and contact order best meets a child’s needs. A mother and father may have been in an unmarried relationship for many years and whilst you may think that in that scenario the mother will have more ‘’rights’’ over their child a judge will make a child arrangements order, setting out the custody and contact, that he or she thinks will meet the needs of the child. For example, if the father is a loving father who has always enjoyed a close relationship with the child a shared care order may be appropriate. On the other hand, if one parent has either been physically or emotionally abusive towards the child then this would be a reason to give custody of the child to the other parent and to stop or limit the contact to the other parent.
When it comes to children law the court looks at things from the perspective of what is best for the child and in the child’s interests. That consideration does not pay a lot of heed to whether you are married or unmarried or in a civil partnership but instead focusses on your child and their characteristics and needs. Accordingly, in the court’s eyes, it is far more important that a parent wants and is able to commit to a long term relationship with their child after a parental separation than the legal status of the parental relationship.
If you are a parent engaged in a custody or contact dispute then children law solicitors will recommend that you don’t focus on the status of your relationship with the other parent and instead focus on your child’s needs and best interests. That way the court is far more likely to be persuaded to make the type of child arrangements order that you are seeking.
How can Evolve Family Law help?
At Evolve Family Law we recognise that every family is different and we therefore welcome calls to discuss how we can help your family, whether it is an application for a parental responsibility order or a child arrangements order or to discuss the potential legal costs of going to court for a child custody order. Call us or complete our online enquiry form . We can also set up a video conference, skype or telephone appointment so you can speak to an experienced Cheshire children law solicitor from anywhere in the world.
In the past you could only get a judge to make a family law injunction order if there had been domestic violence involving a trip to the hospital or doctor. Those days are long gone with family judges realising that any form of domestic violence, from serious sexual assault to slap or push, is unacceptable. The law now allows you to apply for a family law injunction order if you are subjected to coercive control and behaviour. In this blog we look at what is meant by coercive control and behaviour.
Evolve Family Law solicitors are approachable and friendly, providing expert divorce, children and financial settlement advice, with experience in handling separations or divorces where a partner has been abusive or is narcissistic and controlling. Contact us today and let us help you.
What is Coercive Behaviour?
The question ‘what is coercive behaviour?’ is a good one as what one person would describe as coercive and controlling behaviour may be the normal experience of a husband, wife or partner who is so used to such controlling behaviour that they have become immune to it and adapted their life and thought processes around their partner’s behaviour so as not to upset them or to fit in.
It is often only when you see your husband, wife, or partner starting to exercise the same coercive behaviour on your child and you see the impact of that behaviour on your child’s demeanour and personality that you realise that you have got to do something. In other families it takes a close friend or family member to point out that what your partner sees as loving behaviour is actually stifling you and is coercive behaviour.
From a Cheshire divorce and family law solicitor’s perspective coercive behaviour is any act designed to force or coerce you into doing something against your will or that is intended to harm or intimidate you. Acts can include physical threats as well other forms of humiliation or words said by your partner that make you feel as if you are no longer in control of your life or actions.
The government says that coercive and controlling behaviour is an act designed to make you feel subordinate or dependent on your partner and gives examples of:
Isolation from friends and family
Stopping you from being independent
Regulating your behaviour.
Examples of Coercive Behaviour
It is all very well to be told what the government thinks is coercive behaviour but how does that translate into real life? Below are some examples of real life coercive behaviour:
Controlling what you eat and weigh (it may be said that this is for ‘your own good’ to make you attractive but it is still coercive and controlling behaviour)
Stopping you from having a shower or bath at times other than stipulated
Preventing you from leaving the family home on your own or stopping you from seeing your friends and family
Restricting your access to money so you only get an allowance to buy food and have to account for any money spent by you
Telling you that you can't pick up the baby or play with the children other than at times allowed
Telling you that you can't go online or monitoring your computer and telephone usage
Dictating what clothes you should wear (either too modest or too flamboyant for your taste) or saying what make-up you can wear (if any).
Coercion and control doesn’t just happen to women in heterosexual relationships. Women can also coerce and control their male partners or husbands. Coercion and control also occurs in same sex relationships.
If something amounts to coercive and controlling behaviour then it doesn’t matter if you are married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting and living together. It is the act or behaviour that is important rather than the legal status of your family relationship.
Recognising Coercive Behaviour
Coercive and controlling behaviour can be insidious and hard for you or your friends and family to spot. That is because the coercion can be subtle (for example, ‘you look fat or tarty in that outfit’) or the degree of control can grow slowly over time so you don’t recognise it for what it is (for example, getting you to agree that it is too much hassle to see your mother every week to eventually telling you who you can and can't see).
When you are in a relationship, or you are a close friend or family member, it can be hard to spot or recognise coercive behaviour, often because it is dressed up as ‘only wanting to do what is best’ or because it is said you are so stupid or mentally unwell that your partner or husband or wife knows what is best for you.
Don’t forget that coercion and controlling behaviour doesn’t have to be face to face. Some of the most intimidating coercive behaviour can be carried out by bombarding someone with text messages and phone calls or remotely spying on activities.
What can I do about coercive behaviour in my relationship?
If you are being subjected to coercion and control in your relationship then you can:
Try and get your partner to see his/her behaviour for what it is. This may involve counselling to get to the root cause of the coercive behaviour. In some family situations the nature of the coercive control is such that it is not safe or healthy for you to stay in the relationship and so counselling and trying to stay together may not be a realistic option as you need to leave the family home and separate permanently
Separate and start divorce proceedings. If your husband or wife has exercised coercive or controlling behaviour you should be able to start divorce proceedings based on their unreasonable behaviour. Even if you don’t want to start divorce proceedings based on your spouse’s unreasonable behaviour it is still important to tell your divorce solicitor about the behaviour. They can talk to you about your divorce proceedings options, such as starting divorce proceedings on your partner’s new relationship (adultery)
Separate and start injunction proceedings. An injunction order is made by the family court. The court can either make a non-molestation or an occupation order to protect you and your children
Make a complaint to the police. The Serious Crime Act 2015 created a new criminal offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationship’. If your partner is found guilty then in a serious case of coercive behaviour they could be sent to prison for up to five years.
What is a non-molestation order?
A non-molestation injunction order is a family court order that stops the person who is behaving in a coercive or controlling manner towards you or your child from continuing to do so.
What is an occupation order?
An occupation injunction order is a family court order that stops the person who is behaving in a coercive or controlling manner towards you or your child from continuing to live at the family home or from re-entering the family home or restricts your partner or spouse from certain rooms in the family home.
Breaching an injunction order
If your partner or spouse breaches a family court injunction order then it is a contempt of court and a criminal offence.
Talking to your divorce and family law solicitor about coercive behaviour
If you take the step of deciding to speak to a Cheshire divorce solicitor about your marriage or relationship it is important to tell them about the coercive control. Many people are too embarrassed to talk about their partner or spouse’s behaviour or they decide that their partner’s behaviour isn’t relevant because they don’t want to start divorce proceedings based on unreasonable behaviour or start injunction proceedings.
Even if you don’t want your divorce solicitor to act on the coercive behaviour information you give them, it is still important to tell them about it so that they understand why you may have concerns about your children having contact and why you want a child arrangements order or why you may want a financial settlement that includes a clean break financial court order so there are no ongoing financial ties between you and your husband or wife.
Cheshire divorce solicitors won't judge you or criticise you for not leaving your partner any earlier. However, what they will do is support you during your relationship breakdown, finding the best long term family solutions for you and your family and to do that they need to know about the coercive and controlling behaviour to help you and your family.