Considerations in non-marital relationship breakdowns

It has been recently reported that TV and radio personality Vanessa Felts’ relationship with singer Ben Ofoedu has ended after 16 years due to Ben’s alleged infidelity. Previously married once before but divorced in 2000, Vanessa has stated whilst appearing on ITV’s This Morning, “I have had it before. I have had a horrible divorce, but I am absolutely not going to let it get me down”. 

Non-married but cohabitating couples have just as many legal issues to deal with as a consequence of their relationship breakdown as couples who are married, but unfortunately, they don’t have as many legal protections or financial claims that they can make against their ex-partner in order to meet their reasonable needs. 

At MSB, our award-winning Family Team regularly advise clients in respect of all aspects of relationship breakdown, whether the parties involved are married or unmarried. 

Some of the key areas for non-married couples who separate to consider are as follows. 


1. Property 

There may be jointly owned property to be considered and if so, thought will need to be given to whether the property needs to be sold. It may well be that the property that the couple lived in was legally owned by only one of the parties, in which case one party can buy out the other party’s legal interest in the property. A case, therefore, may need to be made in respect of the other party’s beneficial interest in that property.  In circumstances like this, non-married couples do not have the same protection under law as those who are married.   In fact, non-married couples who are separating in circumstances like these and in the absence of any agreement, may need to make an application to the Court under the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act (TOLATA) 1996.   

If the family home was not owned but rented, this can still cause issues in respect of the tenancy.  In the absence of an agreement, the Court has powers under the Family Law Act 1996 to order a transfer of the tenancy from one party to another but does not have the power to remove a party from a tenancy. 


2. Arrangements for Children 

If the separating couple have children, there may be a dispute in respect of how the children will spend their time between both parents.  In the absence of agreement, parties can look to instruct solicitors to negotiate an arrangement on their behalf, seek the assistance of a mediator in reaching an agreement, or as a final step, they can make an application to the Court for the Court’s assistance in making a decision which is in the best interest of the children. 


3. Joint Bank Accounts 

Separating couples may have a joint bank account which they have used for paying the monthly household bills, saving for a new home, or a dream holiday etc.  It is important to discuss how it is envisioned the joint account will be used post-separation and what is to happen to any funds that are in the account.  Separating couples need to pay particular attention and be careful in respect of joint accounts that may have an overdraft facility linked to the account. Any increase in debt in respect of the account they will be jointly liable for. 


4. Pension/Life Insurance 

During happier times in the relationship, one party may have assigned their partner as the beneficiary of a pension fund or life insurance policy which they have a benefit in.  If the relationship has ended, the party with the asset may no longer wish to assign such a benefit to their ex-partner and will need to contact their pension administrators or insurance company provider to make alternative arrangements. 


5. A Will 

A relationship breakdown is always an advisable time to revise a current Will, or indeed to make a Will for the first time.  A party to a relationship may have left in their Will a gift of property or other assets to their ex-partner that, as a consequence of the relationship ending, they may no longer wish to gift.   


Should you wish to make an appointment to discuss any issues concerning a relationship breakdown, whether that be the breakdown of the marriage or cohabitation, please contact John Owens – 

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