Splitting Up If You Live Together

Many people assume that, if they’ve been living together for several years, the law treats them on the same basis as if they were married. However, this isn’t the case - and that can have implications if you split up.

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Family Law Client

The Short of it

  • If you weren’t married,

    you need to act quickly to sort out the financial side of splitting up.

  • For many people the main issue

    is how to deal with a jointly-owned property.

  • If you’ve contributed to your partner's finances to your own financial disadvantage

    you might have a claim when the relationship ends.

  • Everything we do at Watermans is about getting you the resolution you need

    and providing Straightforward legal advice. It should be that simple.

  • The Long of it


    What is cohabitation?

    Cohabitation means living together with your partner as if you were a married couple – so it doesn’t cover flatmates, lodgers and so on. Many people assume that if you live together for a long time your relationship will be treated the same as marriage under the law, but this isn’t the case. Whether you’ve lived together for two months or twenty years, it’s still a cohabiting relationship.

    Many people assume that once they’ve lived together for several years, the law treats them on the same basis as if they were married.

    However, this isn’t the case. There is no such thing as common law marriage in Scotland, instead cohabitation law applies. This can have a big impact on what happens if you split up.

    This doesn’t make any difference emotionally when you split up. But it does affect the legalities as far as finances (not child issues) are concerned. Once you separate, you can usually, in effect, walk away financially. Neither of you has a claim on each other’s assets or any responsibility for each other’s debts, although you will still have to pay the mortgage if it’s in joint names. You can’t ask for a share of each other’s pension or other assets, or maintenance for yourself (rather than the kids).

    For many people the main issue is how to deal with a jointly owned property. If you didn’t have a cohabitation agreement this can be difficult to resolve if one of you put in a bigger deposit than the other. You will usually have some options, and we can talk you through them.

    We can also advise on whether you might have a financial claim. In limited circumstances, a court can order a partner who has benefited financially from a cohabiting relationship to pay a lump sum to the partner who has lost out. The purpose is to compensate for significant unfairness. For example, if you’ve worked to help build up your partner’s business for years but don’t own a share of it when you split up, you might have a claim. The court will compare how the couple started out financially with where you ended up and try to correct any really unfair outcomes.

    This area of law is complicated. The courts have struggled with it, never mind the general public. If you’re in this situation, one of our specialist family lawyers can talk you through your options. The sooner you come in to see us the better – if you have to ask the court to intervene, you only have a year from the end of the relationship to do it. That might sound like a long time, but you don’t want to find yourself speaking to us on day 364.

    How is it different from marriage?

    How is cohabitation different from marriage?

    Cohabitants generally don’t have the same financial obligations to each other as married couples do. The legal framework for sorting out finances and property after the relationship ends is completely different from the one used by married couples. It’s best to get specialist advice to find your way through this.

    However, if you have children together, your rights and responsibilities for them are usually the same as if you were married, and so is the obligation to pay child maintenance.

    Why Watermans?

    How can Watermans help your situation?

    It’s important to understand your rights if you split up from your live-in partner so you can get a fair deal and move forward. We can explain your legal options and advise you to make a financial claim if appropriate. We can also help you sort out disputes over your children, including going to court if you can’t agree.

    We’re experts in family law and we know our stuff – but we’re also normal people you can have a real conversation with. We don’t use legal jargon (or Latin), we give straightforward advice, and we won’t judge or patronise you. Coming from a range of backgrounds and with our own life experiences to draw on, we understand and empathise with how stressful family disputes can be. We know how important it is to trust your lawyer and that you need to know we’re in your corner. Our aim is to work in partnership with you to help resolve things quickly and cost-effectively so you can move forward with your life.

    Time limit?

    Is there a time limit for making a financial claim once cohabitation has ended?

    If you want to make a financial claim in court after a cohabitation has ended, you must start the action within one year of the date of separation. It can take a while to get to the point of going to court so it’s important to get advice as early as possible.

    Your first meeting with us

    What can I expect from my first meeting with Watermans?

    It’s normal to be a bit nervous before your first meeting with a family lawyer – and even if you feel confident, it doesn’t do any harm to know what to expect.

    The process starts when you first get in touch. We can normally offer a fixed fee for an initial consultation with one of our specialist family lawyers, payable on the day of the meeting. We will agree this fee with you before we go any further. We will also need to check that we haven’t acted for anyone else involved in the dispute (they won’t know we have done this).

    If that’s all OK, we will then send you a link to a secure online verification system to carry out some compliance checks required by law. We will also ask you to fill out a short questionnaire collecting basic information such as the dates of separation. This saves time during our meeting and means we can get straight to the point.

    If you’re being taken to court, we’ll usually ask you to scan the court papers over to us in advance. You may have received a solicitors’ letter and if so, it helps if we can see this beforehand too.

    It’s a good idea to think through beforehand what questions you have and what you want to achieve from the meeting. For example, if you are separating, do you have any thoughts about how you’d like to resolve issues about your children or the house? What would a good outcome look like to you? What are your priorities? It’s OK if you don’t have answers yet, but it’s worth starting to reflect on this.

    The meeting itself will be over secure video link or in person, with one of our specialist family lawyers. It’s unlikely we can resolve everything in a single session, but our goal is for you to come away knowing how the law applies to your situation, the options for sorting things out, and roughly what that might cost in legal fees. You can then make informed decisions about what to do next.

    Please do not worry about getting emotional or not knowing exactly what to say. Family disputes are very personal, and many people find it upsetting to talk about them. We understand and we won’t judge. And just to be clear, everything you tell us is completely confidential.

    What happens after the meeting is up to you. We won’t take any action in your case or contact anyone else involved unless you tell us to do so.

    If you have any questions about consulting a family lawyer or want to discuss a first meeting, please get in touch.

    Get in touch with us

    Everything we do at Watermans is about getting you the resolution you need and making that process straightforward. Start the process by sending us your details below or calling us on 0131 555 7055

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    Our Family Law expert

    “People often say to me that family law must be a depressing job – but I’ve never felt that. What we do makes a difference. I love working with my clients to understand their stories, help them work out where they want to get to, and collaborate with them to achieve their goals. Seeing people come through it and embark on a new stage of their lives is a great feeling.”

    Dianne Millen, Head of Family Law