Many people believe that just because they have lived with their partner for some time they automatically acquire rights under the law, and indeed some believe that they have become ‘common law’ man and wife.
There is, however, no such thing as ‘common law’ man and wife under the English law. It is therefore important to consider all the circumstances carefully, particularly in connection with the owning of property.
Where two married people separate, the Courts have considerable discretion to adjust property rights; the law that applies to divorcing couples, however, does not apply when two unmarried people separate, no matter how long they have been together.
This can sometimes lead to some very unfortunate results. For example, on separation, one party may discover that he or she is not entitled to share in the proceeds of sale of the property they have lived in, no matter how long the relationship has been. There have been many expensive court cases involving disputes between separating unmarried couples over property rights.
Nor does an unmarried partner automatically benefit, should the other partner die without making a will naming the other partner as a beneficiary.
So if you are living together and have property or other assets, and particularly if you are considering separation, it is important that you check your rights.
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