Unmarried financial disputes

I have never dealt with a firm who go above and beyond so much. They are very experienced and brilliant at what they do, and I always know what to expect.

– Chambers and Partners UK Guide

Our experienced family solicitors are specialists in dealing with all types of relationship breakdown, whether you were married to your ex-partner or not.

Contrary to popular belief, “common law marriage” does not exist, and there is no such thing as a “common law” husband or wife. This is even the case if you have been together for many years.  If a couple are not married then there is no legal obligation on one party to support the other, either during the relationship or after the relationship has come to an end.  This can be a particularly harsh reality upon the breakdown of your relationship, when there are so many other uncertainties at the same time. 

There may be property claims that can be made on your behalf, or claims for additional provision for your children, and our specialist lawyers have a wealth of experience in this area of law.  We can assist you with any challenges that you may face, including how any jointly owned assets are to be dealt with, and how any children are to be financially supported in the future.

We explain the law simply and help our clients to move on with their lives as swiftly as possible. We can discuss with you the best way to achieve this for your family – whether by mediation, arbitration, negotiations, or court proceedings if they prove necessary.

Common questions on unmarried financial disputes

There is no such thing as a “common law” marriage and therefore, for those that are not married or in a civil partnership, the court has limited scope to deal with the assets that have accrued in the relationship. The court will approach the division of assets without reference to the fact that you were in a cohabiting relationship. If you don’t have any legal agreements in place to protect you, such as a cohabitation agreement or a declaration of trust in relation to property, you are likely to be left with only the assets that are in your sole name and a share of the assets in joint names, if there are any.

Where you and your ex-partner live in a property that is jointly owned by you, in joint names, it is likely that one of you will need to buy the other out of their share, or the property will be sold and the proceeds of sale divided between you.  If you signed a declaration of trust when you bought this property, this may set out the mechanism for buying out shares or the sale of the property.

Where a property is owned by only one of you, the other does not have any legal or beneficial interest in the property simply by having lived there, regardless of the length of your relationship.  There is legislation (the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, or TOLATA) which may be able to assist in establishing a financial interest in a property. For example, where you have invested money into the property by way of funding renovation works, reducing the mortgage balance or contributing to the deposit, you may be able to demonstrate that you have a financial interest in the property.  Alternatively, if you were promised a share in the property and then made a financial contribution on the basis of the promise, it may be possible to prove a financial interest that way.

Firstly, your ex-partner will need to pay child maintenance for the children if they are to remain living with you. We explain this all on our Children page, where you can find a link to other FAQS specifically about arrangements for children

In addition to this, Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 sets out additional provision. You can apply to the court for various financial orders to be made. Those claims must be for the benefit of your child only.  The court can order:

  • Additional child maintenance, if your ex-partner is a high earner (this means earning over £156,000 per year before tax)
  • Provision of a property to meet your child’s housing needs until he or she finishes full time education

Lump sum orders to meet your child’s additional financial needs. This could be for a school trip or a new computer for your child’s schoolwork, for example. Such needs can be more widely interpreted to provide, for example, a car for you to use if it is essential for your child’s education or wellbeing, or discharge of debts if to do so would be of indirect benefit to your child.

If you are making an application under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 (see above), the court can order that your ex-partner is to contribute to your legal costs. This can apply to your historic and future costs.

However, if you are making an application about the ownership of a property (under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996), you should be aware that this is deemed to be a civil claim, rather than a family claim. This means that different costs rules apply and, if you are unsuccessful in achieving the outcome sought, you could be ordered to pay your ex-partner’s costs. If you are successful, you may recover some, but not all, of your costs from your ex-partner.  It’s important therefore to take early legal advice and consider negotiations and mediation before embarking on a court application.

Ordinarily, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is the first and last stop for determining child maintenance. The Family Court has very limited power to make otherwise make an order that your ex-partner should pay child maintenance. There are some exceptions though, as follows:  

  •  If either you or your ex-partner normally lives outside England and Wales, the court will have sole responsibility for assessing child maintenance and can make such an order as they see fit – they are not bound by the normal CMS rates
  • If your ex-partner earns more than £156,000 per annum (before tax), the court can make a ‘top up’ order. This means that your ex-partner will pay the amount of child maintenance assessed by the CMS and also an extra amount assessed by the court. The amount will be determined against your ex-partner’s resources and your child’s needs. 
  • If you are seeking an order that your ex-partner pays for your child’s school fees, or other expenses associated with your child’s training or education, the court can order further payments (referred above as lump sum payments)
  • If your child is disabled, and has additional costs as a result, the court can order your ex-partner to make additional payments in addition to CMS assessed child maintenance
  • Ordinarily, child maintenance assessed by the CMS end when your child finishes full time education. If your child remains in education after the age of 19, or there are special circumstances, such as additional training or education resulting from a disability, then the court can order for the maintenance to continue for a longer period.

If you have a question that isn’t here or would like advice from one of our family solicitors on financial settlement, then do get in touch with the family team on +44 (0)1892 506 275

Key Contact

Simon Donald


+44 (0)20 7591 3320

Key Contact

Claire Tollefson

Managing Associate

+44 (0)1892 506 191

Key Contact

Sarah Stone

Legal Secretary

+44 (0)1892 506 275

Key Contact

Camilla Hooper

Senior Associate

+44 (0)20 7591 3312

Key Contact

Helen Fisher

Managing Associate

+44 (0)1892 506 258

Key Contact

Katy-Louise Allen

Senior Associate

+44 (0)1892 506 305

Key Contact

Nicola Shewan

Legal Secretary

+44 (0)1892 506 246

Key Contact

Mairi Woodward


+44 (0)1892 489 572

Key Contact

Vanda James


+44 (0)1892 506 184