According to Clout (2002), more and more unmarried couples are living together nowadays. Clout (2002) added that although their relationship comparable in a lot of aspects to marriage, unmarried couples must be conscious that the law deals with them differently from married couples. In addition, Dyer (2002) states that according to the Law Commission, unmarried couples essentially have no legal right to a share of their partner’s property and must be decisive to safeguard themselves.
On domestic property, in England the courts have declined to acknowledge that domestic property must be handled in a different way from any other kind of property. In general, Parliament has refused to understand and follow this politically sensitive issue (www.warwick.ac.uk).
There is also myth about the common law wife and cohabitants. As maintained by www. divorce.co.uk , there is a widespread belief that a thing like a common law husband or wife exists. Contrary to this belief, ever since the Marriage Act of 1763, there has been no such thing as a common law husband or wife in Wales and England.
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This means that whether somebody lives with his/her “partner”, or “cohabitee,” the law still considers that there is no special relationship existing and that their relationship is not equivalent to the relationship of a husband or wife. Moreover, Dyer (2006) said that surveys reveal that majority of unmarried couples are not aware of their lack of rights.
The Rights of Cohabitees if the Relationship Breaks Down
Not like married couples, Law on the Web adds that unmarried couples or “cohabitees” have no fundamental rights to their partner’s property or to maintenance if the relationship ends. Essentially, what is hers is hers, what is his is his, and what is jointly owned has to be apportioned.
If the relationship between an unmarried couple ends, then their property rights are unaffected. The distinction between "his, hers and theirs" (or, indeed, between "his, his and theirs" or "hers, hers, and theirs") is very real in this situation and each person is entitled to claim his/her own property.
According to www.terry.co.uk, the situation of cohabitees is different. The property rights of unmarried couples continue to be precisely the same even after break up. This means that any property is still owned by its owner and that is typically the individual who paid for that property. Logically, there is certain room for argument over this but that is the prevailing standard and the courts have no power to disregard it.
If the parties are putting in inequitably or disproportionately to the maintenance or purchase price of the property, then this must be manifested by being specified as tenants-in-common and possessing unequal shareholdings (for instance, 60% and 40%), instead of the identical shareholdings of beneficial joint tenants (Law on the Web).
Meanwhile, if the other party also contributed to the purchase price of the property, the courts are probable to acknowledge or recognize that in any case part of the property must have been in their name; and if there has been an agreement between the parties and the non-owner of the property has taken actions to their disadvantage accordingly (for example, paid household bills, contributed to mortgage repayments, or, maybe, sold their personal property) then the courts might possibly concur that they must share in the property.
According to www.divorce.co.uk, if the unmarried couple splits up, the woman might be able to prove that she is unconstrained to a share in the house if she might be able to prove the following:
(a) That she contributed to the price of buying the house. Even though if for instance she merely gave a 10% deposit that could signify she would simply be expected to get 10% of the net equity.
(b) That she can prove or establish that the man promised her that the house would be theirs jointly if she makes some contribution to the price of the house. It is more effective if she can disclose that the man put his promise in writing, even though it does not have to be a formal paper; actually, love letters can be sufficient. Moreover, the contribution should be practically important, for instance paying for the groceries and the dining set would probably not be adequate.
(c) That in case there is no written document as an evidence, the woman might still be able to assert a share of the house if she will prove that she depended on the man’s promise to her and as a consequence she made a considerable contribution to what she assumed was going to be her home as well.
The Case of Jane and Ahmed
In the case of Jane and Ahmed, Jane can claim beneficial rights in the house due to the following:
§ When Jane asked Ahmed that the house be transferred into their joint names, Ahmed assured Jane that in the near future when they get married, the house will be Jane’s too.
§ Because she depended on Ahmed’s promise, she undertook extensive gardening in the grounds of the house, redesigned the house to make it more homely, paid for some central heating to be installed, and helped build and pay for the extension of the house.
Meanwhile, her share to the house will be calculated in terms of the contributions that she had made in the house. In her case, she can claim the 25,000, which she spent for the extension of the house and the price that she paid for the other renovations made in the house.
The Case of Rachel and Tom
With regards to the situation of Rachel and Tom, Rachel could certainly claim beneficial rights to the house due to the following reasons:
Even if the house is in the sole name of Tom, Rachel has a contribution to the purchase price of the house because her parents gave 10,000, which was used to help pay for the house. As Montgomery (2005) asserts, the easiest way that the woman can prove that she is entitled to a share in the house is if she can prove that she contributed in the purchase price.
Moreover, Rachel paid the installments of the mortgage loan of the house for a period of 12 months when Tom was out of work. In the course of their relationship, Rachel has also supervised some renovation work on the house, subsidized the housekeeping and allowed Tom to pay less.
Rachel’s share to the house will be calculated taking into account the amount given by her parents in paying for the house, the total amount of the installments she had paid for the mortgage loan, and the amount of the renovation and housekeeping she had paid out of her own money.
A similar case to that of Jane and Rachel is the case of Elayne Oxley who was awarded a 100,000 share of her previous partner’s home although they were not unmarried and she made no financial contribution to the mortgage (Divorce-Online Ltd, 2004). The court verdict said that Ms. Oxley is entitled to a 40% share of the property because even though she had not paid the mortgage she had contributed towards food and utility bills.
Compactlaw. (2006). Unmarried Couples. Retrieved from http://www.compactlaw.co.uk
Clout, Imogen. (2002). The “Which?” Guide to Living Together. Which? Books.
Divorce-Online Ltd. (2004). Unmarried woman wins share of former partner’s home.
Divorce Website. The myth of the common law wife and cohabitants. Retrieved from http://www.divorce.co.uk
Dyer, Clare. (2002). Property rights warning for unmarried couples. The Guardian.
Dyer, Clare. (2006). Unmarried couples to get new rights. The Guardian.
Law on the Web. Unmarried Couples-Property Rights. Retrieved from http://www.lawontheweb.co.uk
Montgomery, Emma-Lou. (2005). The common-law wife – is there such a thing? MSN Money.
Terry Website. Cohabitees and their rights if the relationship breaks down. Retrieved from http://www.terry.co.uk
Warwick Website. (1999). Domestic Property. Retrieved from http://www.law.warwick.ac.uk
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