unmarried separations

Are unmarried separations dealt with in the Civil Court or the Family Court? This is a question we are asked very often.

Whilst the separation of an unmarried couple is often considered the breakdown of a family, disputes in relation to property and finances are dealt with in the Civil Court and not the Family Court.

What if we are ‘common law spouses’?

The term ‘common law marriage’ is unfortunately a myth and has no legal standing in England and Wales as the law stands. If you are not married or civil partners, you are considered an unmarried couple, irrespective of the length of your relationship.

Why are unmarried separations dealt with in the Civil Courts?

There is unfortunately no cohabitation legislation in place (the last time cohabitation legislation was put to parliament, Brexit took precedent and it has not been reviewed since).

This means that when an unmarried couple separate and there is a dispute over property or finances, including disputing the parties’ respective shares in a property or claiming a share in a property in your partner’s name, civil legislation and case law applies.

Why is this important?

There are very different rules in Family Court and Civil Court. Civil proceedings are governed by a strict set of rules known as the ‘Civil Procedure Rules’, and carry significant cost consequences. It is therefore absolutely vital to comply with the requirements of the Civil Procedure Rules from the outset to ensure you are protected on costs. Failure to comply with these rules, even unintentionally, can lead to you being liable for the other party’s costs even if you are successful in your claim.

How do I know who should advise me?

If you are unmarried and separating from your partner, a member of our specialist Cohabitation Team can speak with you initially. Our Cohabitation Team are Civil Court specialists so will be able to guide you through the Civil Court process with expert knowledge. If you would also like advice regarding children, our Family Team are on hand to provide you with any advice you need in that respect.