How solicitors can help when unmarried couples separate

For Sale estate agent sign displayed outside a terraced house in Crouch End, London

A solicitor can help you divide your assets if you are an unmarried couple who wish to separate - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It has been a stressful year for many of us and sadly there are those who are now emerging from the turbulence of the past months with the realisation that their relationship is over.

Couples who are unmarried but own a property together and now find themselves in this difficult situation may well benefit from the professional advice of an experienced solicitor.

Layla Babadi, legal director in the expert family law team at Nelsons, one of the leading law firms in the East Midlands, answers your questions:

Q: What are my options if I want to leave my relationship but own a house with my partner?

A: Usually you would consider whether to sell up and split the proceeds of the property between you or whether one of you might buy the other one out. This would involve removing one person’s name from the legal mortgage documents. If one person does decide to keep the house on, then the other party needs to be sure they no longer have any obligations towards the mortgage and that they are given their fair share of the equity.

There may also be issues concerning the percentages each person initially contributed. A solicitor can advise and help you with this in order to ensure your interests are protected.

Q: We are concerned that this might not be a good time to sell the house, do we have other options?

Spouses couple signing decree papers getting divorced in lawyers office, unhappy married family spli

A separation agreement sets out arrangements concerning jointly owned property - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A: Yes. You may well decide between you – and quite possibly amicably – that you want to wait for a while before selling or that the person who no longer lives in the house still wishes to retain their investment in the property. If you can agree a way forward along these lines, then you ought to establish a separation agreement. Again, a solicitor can help you with this.

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Q: But we have been living together for many years, don’t we have the same rights as a married couple?

A: No. It is a common misconception that unmarried couples who have lived together for many years have the same rights as those who are married. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as “common law marriage” in this country. Unmarried couples cannot, for example, bring maintenance claims against each other and they are not entitled to a percentage of the other person’s pension. They can, however, make arrangements concerning jointly owned property – which is where a separation agreement can be useful.

Q: What is a separation agreement?

Layla Babadi, legal director in the family law team at Nelsons

Layla Babadi is a legal director in the family law team at Nelsons - Credit: Andrew Carpenter

A: A separation agreement or deed of separation is a legal document that formalises and sets out your agreed terms – and that both partners then sign. If one of you violates the terms of the separation agreement, then the other one can seek enforcement through the courts.

Q: What are the advantages of a separation agreement?

A: At the moment, a separation agreement is not legally binding in this country, but the courts will take it very seriously as it offers clear evidence of the agreement you have reached and of your intentions. If the court later has to intervene in a dispute, the separation agreement will clearly outline the arrangement you were both initially happy with. The court is therefore very likely to take these into consideration when proceedings take place and when making its decision, which will be legally binding and enforceable.

Q: How much will a separation agreement cost me?

A: It varies. At Nelsons, we have fixed fee arrangements for first meetings. These range from £150+VAT up to £250+VAT, depending on the level of advice you need. Regardless of who you are seeing, our legal experts will discuss your situation and your legal rights with you and will then explain the cost of drawing up your separation agreement, which will depend on its complexity. Regardless of how amicable your separation is, we always advise you and your partner to seek legal advice from different solicitors.

For more information visit nelsonslaw.co.uk or call the Derby team on 0800 024 1976