Often hearing from an ex-partner when you thought the relationship was in the past brings with it an element of stress. When they crop up out of nowhere demanding money, that stress is multiplied.

That is exactly what Olivia faced when she received a letter from her ex-partner’s solicitor out of the blue. He claimed that because he had helped to renovate a house when they were still together that he was entitled to a share of the property – despite the fact that Olivia had paid for all of the materials, they weren’t even living together when he did the work and the property being in Olivia’s sole name.

“When I got that letter I was in complete shock. I hadn’t spoken to my ex for the previous three years and as far as I was concerned we had both moved on,” says Olivia.

“That letter was the start of a dispute that lasted over a year. For a long time it wasn’t even clear how much my ex wanted. We went back and forward with offers for a while and then went into mediation. I had so much evidence and many witness statements to support my case that eventually he accepted £10K which was significantly lower than the sum sought,” explains Olivia.

“Thankfully I paid for all of the materials used in the renovation and kept detailed receipts as the property is part of my business. If I hadn’t done that I definitely wouldn’t have been able to argue his financial claim down as much as I did.”

This kind of claim is not unusual according to Charisse Crawford a partner at Stephens Scown who specialises in cohabitation disputes and advised Olivia on the dispute with her ex. “Where someone has invested money, or ‘money’s worth’ during a relationship, there could be a basis for a claim. Because he did the renovation work for free on Olivia’s property he argued he had a ‘money’s worth’ claim.”

However, the good news is that there is something that people can do to protect themselves.

“A cohabitation agreement offers protection for unmarried couples. It will set out your intention for things like finances and property if you split up or one of you unfortunately dies. No one likes to think about the possibility of splitting up when a relationship is going well, but being practical and having plans in place is sensible – particularly if there is a property, a business or other wealth involved which you would not want to fall victim to a claim. A cohabitation agreement can also save a significant amount of legal costs should a dispute arise,” adds Charisse.

Olivia agrees: “If I can help prevent just one person from going through what I did, that will be worth it. It really was horrendous. A cohabitation agreement may not be romantic, but it is definitely advisable and could save you a lot of heartache and money.”

So what does the future hold for Olivia now? “It was a really tough period of my life, but I was fortunate to have great legal advice, brilliant support from my family and my new partner. We recently got engaged and I’m looking forward to a fresh start and an exciting new chapter in my life.”

Charisse Crawford is a partner in the disputes team in Exeter and has experience of dealing with both cohabitation disputes and drafting cohabitation agreements. If you have a query please do contact Charisse on 01392 210700 or email drx@stephens-scown.co.uk.