Unmarried: Do I have any rights to the house?

A common misconception is that unmarried couples have the same legal rights as married couples when it comes to relationship breakdown. The truth is that the law actually leaves unmarried people relatively unprotected when it comes to dividing the assets at the end of a relationship; essentially what you own is yours and what your ex owns is theirs. But does this approach also apply to the house?

The property you've lived in together is likely to be the most valuable asset you've owned as a couple. If you are a legal owner of the property then you will be entitled to a share of the property. But, if the house is owned in the sole name of your ex, does that leave you high and dry (or cold, wet and homeless)?

Frankly it can depend on circumstances which may have occurred throughout the relationship. For instance, if your ex legally owns the property, did you financially contribute to the purchase price or have you been paying towards the mortgage? Have you paid for repairs or an extension? Alternatively you could have been paying for other expenses such as food, the bills or the children freeing up more of your ex’s money. If you both intended that your contributions would provide you with an interest in the property then you could well be entitled to a share.

To establish an interest in the house you would have to prove that both you and your ex intended that the property would be shared in some way. This common intention may have arisen through discussions about shared ownership when the property was initially purchased. On the other hand, you may have started cohabiting after your ex had bought the property. If you then moved in and began to make substantial financial contributions to the mortgage or other bills you could be entitled to an interest in the property. Such contributions would need to go above and beyond paying your way to live in the house, eat the food and use the electricity.

Whether or not you are entitled to a share of the property depends on whether you can establish that there was a shared intention that you would have an interest in the property and you acted to your detriment in reliance on that intention.

If an interest can be established then the amount that you would be entitled to would depend on your specific circumstances; how much did you contribute? For how long? Were there children involved?

If you need help with cohabitation breakdown then contact the Family Team at Trethowans who will help and advise you with this complex area of the law.