29 Jul 2020Read more
How many people use the phrase "common law wife" or "common law husband" to refer to the person with whom they cohabit, but have not married? The times when I hear it most often is when it is being used by unmarried couples who separate.
First things first. There's no such thing as a "common law spouse". It is a common misconception that couples who live together for a number of years and have children together acquire legal status akin to married couple, but such a concept has no legal recognition. Following the breakdown of a such a relationship, it can come as a shock to the parties concerned when they discover they are not protected by the same law that applies to married couples, namely, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.
Disputes between separating couples fall predominantly into one or more of the following scenarios:
"Couples who live together - and perhaps have children together - are not protected by the same laws that apply to married couples."
Aaron Williams, assistant solicitor
Unlike the wide-ranging discretionary powers afforded to the Family Court that provides for the division of assets for married couples, especially in scenarios where one party is not on the title for the family home, the division of property for cohabiting couples is governed by the law of contract. The court’s powers under a TOLATA (The Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996) are generally quite narrow
In limited circumstances, where a property is registered in one party’s sole name, the "non-owning" party can make an application to Court to establish that they have a beneficial interest in the property. Such an application would be made pursuant to the very complex law of equity.
For the non-owing party to establish they have a interest in the property they would need to show the following:
A non-owning party ordinarily establishes that they have acted to their detriment by showing evidence of their financial contributions toward the purchase price of the property, such as mortgage payments, or by showing significant contributions to home improvements - perhaps building an extension, payment for landscaping, or double glazing and so on. When the contributions to the property are more commonly of a nominal value, such as redecorating, or paying an apportionment of bills, it is harder to prove that a party has acted to their detriment.
Provided that the first requirement is overcome by establishing that these principles apply, the next hurdle is establishing what the shares in the property should be. Unlike divorce proceedings, the division of assets is not made on a basis of need. TOLATA applications can be complex and are often very fact-specific; to establish the shares in the property, the Court look to what were the parties’ original intentions. Such intentions are established either from direct evidence, or by inferring what the parties’ intentions were from their conduct - this inference can be made even when the parties themselves were not clear on respective shares in the property.
Separation itself is stressful enough, and as you can see from the information outlined above, an application of this nature may seem a complicated and daunting task on top of the emotional pain. Our priority is to ensure we help you navigate this legal minefield and where possible, help you reach a swift and amicable resolution.
16 Jun 2020
Due to Covid-19, many separated parents are trying to manage the shared care of their children, manage home schooling, and ensure that they are protecting themselves and their families from the virus. In recent weeks, we have seen in the press that many separated parents are fighting each other through the courts over whether their children should return to school as the lockdown is eased. Solicitor Jonathan Casey examines the issues.Read more
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