Unmarried Couples – Property Rights

What happens when an unmarried couple, who have been living together; perhaps for many years, separate? What property rights does each individual have?

Let’s take an example of a couple who have just split up and who have three children under the age of ten years old and the house in which they were living is registered in the sole name of the father. In the past if the mother wanted to claim any entitlement to the property, she would have a difficult time and would often have to prove that she has made actual financial contributions either towards the purchase of the property or the repayment of the mortgage or other direct financial payments.

The Civil Partnership Act of 2010 changed all this. Under this Act, if you are:-

  • An unmarried couple and you have been cohabitating for at least two years if you have children and five years if you do not have children and;
  • Living together in an intimate and committed relationship, then the mother may be entitled to redress if she can show she was financially dependent on the father.

Qualified cohabitants can apply for maintenance, property adjustment orders and pension adjustment orders and the other similar type orders that were previously only available to a married couple.

You have to apply for redress within two years of the end of a relationship.

A difficulty can arise if the relationship comes to an end because the father:-

  • Has discovered that the mother has been unfaithful,
  • The father has been the victim of mental or physical violence,
  • The mother left primarily to start a relationship with somebody else.

The position here is uncertain but the general principle in law is that a person should not be allowed to benefit from their own wrongdoing. On the other hand, children will not be penalised because of problems created by their parents and the obligation to maintain children while they are dependent will remain in place no matter who is responsible for the breakup. Maintenance for the party responsible for the breakup however may be affected in these circumstances.

Kevin Brophy

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