Financial Settlements for Unmarried Couples
Unmarried couples do not have the same legal protections that marriage affords a divorcing couple. When an unmarried couple chooses to separate, a number of issues can arise over finances, individual responsibilities and ownership of property and assets that were acquired during the relationship. In this post, we explore the most common areas in which disagreements arise and discuss the most appropriate way of overcoming these challenges.
- Child support.
An unmarried couple with children is afforded legal protection in that Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989  entitles the parent who will assume parental responsibility after the separation to seek financial support from their former partner to care for the child until they reach the age of 16, or 20 if they remain in full time education.
Child maintenance can be arranged privately between the parents if they are able to reach an amicable agreement, or through the Child Maintenance Service  if there are disagreements that they need to overcome.
Although many couples treat their pets as furry children, in the eyes of the law, they are considered to be property. As such, if the separating couple cannot reach an amicable agreement as to which party should take ownership of the pets, the law will usually assume that the individual who can demonstrate the greatest level of financial commitment to the pets, will assume sole ownership.
If a property is rented and both names are on the rental agreement, both parties have an equal right to remain in the property. They will need to decide between themselves whether to relinquish the property altogether, or apply to their estate agent to change the rental agreement into one name only. A new credit check will be required to ensure that the sole signatory can afford to maintain the property independently. There is no need for any legal involvement in this case.
Where a property is owned and both parties' names are on the property deeds as joint tenants, the law assumes that they have an equal right to remain in the property and if one party requires the other to leave, they will need to financially compensate them for their share. Where the couple purchased a property as tenants in common, they will usually have signed a Declaration of Trust , which will determine the method by which their respective shares in the property are to be divided in the event that the relationship is dissolved.
When no children are involved, the law states that neither party has any financial obligations towards the other after they separate unless they have jointly allocated debts or property. Therefore, it is assumed that any assets or income held in one name only remain the sole property of that individual.
Where the individuals hold a joint bank account, the usual presumption is that the funds therein will be split equally or proportionately, based upon the amount that each individual contributed.
Donna Goodsell comments that there are many nuances involved in financial settlements for unmarried couples and where it is not possible to reach an informal and amicable settlement, legal advice should always be sought to ensure that a satisfactory outcome is achieved.