Unlike married couples or civil partners who are protected by laws designed to achieve fairness in the division of family property, there is no such safety net for cohabiting couples. Cohabitees do not fit easily into the legal system and are reliant on complicated trust law which was not designed to address breakdown in family relationships. This can often make the outcome of the ownership of property uncertain. Neither of you can claim maintenance against the other.
If you bought your home in both your names it is likely that you will each be entitled on separation to the same share as agreed and set out in the conveyancing documents at the beginning. If the home is owned in the name of one partner, the starting point is that the non-owner has no interest in it. The broad principles are that he or she may be able to negotiate or apply to court for a share depending on financial contributions made towards the purchase price or direct or indirect payments towards the mortgage later on, or having given up a financial advantage (such as a job or property) to cohabit. It would have to be proved in addition that such actions were based on an agreement with, or reliance on a promise by, the owning party that a share in the home would result. It is to avoid problems like this at the end of a relationship that it is wise to enter into a living together agreement at the beginning.
If the cohabitees have a dependent child at the date of separation it may be possible to negotiate or apply to court for an order that the main carer of the child is allowed to stay living in the home (whether jointly owned or owned solely by the other parent) until the child is 18 or finishes full-time education, although at that point the property would be sold and the other parent would be entitled to take his or her strict legal share of the sale proceeds.
Legal Aid may still be available to you depending on your individual circumstances although availability has been considerably restricted by the government’s spending cuts. Because the legal position is so complex and so variable from case to case on cohabitation breakdown, we do not offer a fixed fee package but once we have your full instructions and there has been initial communication with your former partner or his or her legal representative, we may be able to offer you an individualised fixed fee for your case. Please contact us for further information.