At the 2023 Labour Party conference Emily Thornberry the shadow Attorney General announced a number of legal changes the Labour Party plan to implement if the Labour Party assumed power at the next general election to protect the rights of women to include making changes to the law around cohabiting couples.
What is the current law?
Currently, cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as married couples who separate and the rights and responsibilities on separation are pretty much limited to their property rights and the right to receive child maintenance if you are the main carer of the children.
The relevant law is the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996. How the law is applied will depend on how you own your home i.e. jointly with each other or the property is owned by just one of you.
How you own your home will be recorded in the transfer deed which is prepared when you are buying your home. The transfer document will be treated as proof of ownership and so, if it is recorded that you own the property equally, that is how the sale proceeds will be divided on separation. If the document records that only one of you owns the property, the starting point is that the registered owner will be entitled to all of the sale proceeds. However, there is an exception to that where a partner who is not the registered owner can demonstrate there was an agreement or understanding that the property would be shared and they can show that they have made contributions towards the property in the form of the deposit, mortgage payments or renovations to the home. If proved, the owner of the property will be treated as owning the property on behalf of both the owner and non-owner. This is called a trust arrangement. Once this is established the next stage will be to determine what their shares in the property are.
Problems arise for a non-owning partner when they cannot prove a contribution towards the property and this can often arise where the partner is the home maker who stays at home to bring up the children and run the home. Raising children and looking after the home is an unpaid job. Under the current law, a home maker who does not co-own a property and who cannot show a monetary contribution towards the property risks leaving the relationship with nothing.
How is the law different for married couples?
The remedies available to a married couple is a lot wider. The relevant law is the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and this sets out a range of orders a court can make on divorce to include payment of maintenance and lump sums, property and pension sharing orders. Even if a non-owning spouse has not made a monetary contribution towards the family home, they will be entitled a share of the marital assets. The priority in divorce cases is to share the assets to meet the needs of the whole family. If there are assets left over once needs are met, the law will consider crediting a spouse who has contributed more to the marriage than the other spouse but the approach will depend on the individual circumstances of the case.
If you are thinking about separating or a divorce and you are concerned about your legal rights, the team at Townsend Family Law can help. Established since 2000 we have developed a strong reputation in Essex, Hertfordshire and London. Our first meeting is charged at a discounted rate of £125 plus VAT.