When deciding to live together, understandably many unmarried couples do not think about what would happen with their property if their relationship came to an end.
However, when relationships do end, these issues are often brought to the forefront and unmarried couples are frequently surprised to find that they do not have the same rights to make property claims against each other as they would have if they were married or in a civil partnership.
Similarly, it can also come as a surprise that behaviour which is commonplace in cohabitation, such as each party contributing to bills, mortgage payments, the cost of improvements to the property and other household costs can have an effect on the respective interests in the property.
The consequences of this can be particularly hard felt where the parties had cohabited in a property which initially belonged solely to one person. In such cases, an unintended consequence of cohabitation can be to create an interest in the property for the party who did not initially have any legal entitlement when they moved in.
Couples often purchase property jointly in order to cohabit and whilst this may offer a starting point for determining any dispute about ownership, this itself can often have consequences. Often issues which are given little thought such as one person paying all of the initial deposit or another having made all of the mortgage payments can present challenges when it comes to untangling the relationship.
In both of these situations, disputes often arise as to what each party’s respective share of the property should be. Whether the property should be sold or whether one party is able to buy out the other’s share.
Determining these issues is complex and where an agreement cannot be reached it may be necessary to make an application to the court under legislation called the Trusts of Land & Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA). This asks the court to determine each party’s share and possibly whether the property should be sold.
The legal costs of taking a claim to court can be significant and before court proceedings are issued, every effort should be made to try and find a resolution. Mediation, which involves a trained third party trying to broker a deal, can be an effective alternative to court proceedings but this does require the willing cooperation of both parties.
Raworths’ Dispute Resolution team has been helping unmarried couples in such circumstances for many years so, if you need advice on any of these issues, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or any member of the Dispute Resolution team who can assist you.
Published on 12 November 2020