Separation of Unmarried Anglo-French Couples: Legal Considerations
Legal Advice for Unmarried Anglo-French Couples
There are over 6 million cohabiting couples in England. Unfortunately, cohabitation laws here are a grey area. The law does not offer the same sort of protection as it does for married couples. The concept of a ‘common law spouse’ does not exist in England. This can lead to problems at the time of separation.
This article covers main legal issues for unmarried Anglo-French or French couples living in England, or Anglo-French couples living abroad, considering separation.
Property: Dividing the family home
If you and your partner jointly own a property, your rights of ownership will be legally protected even if you are not married. You can check who legally owns your property online at the Land Registry. Your rights may be at risk if you move into your partner’s property without legally registering your interest. If you do not register your interest, the legal position (which can be disputed at court in certain very limited circumstances ) may be that you do not have an interest in that property.
The content of your joint bank account will be shared equally between you and your partner. Beware that the same will apply for any overdraft liabilities. If you are unmarried, you will not have an interest in any account held in your partner’s sole name.
Joint debts will be split between you and your partner. Any debts in your individual name will be your sole responsibility. This is regardless of whether the debt was incurred for a joint purpose.
Any possession bought by or gifted to you both as a couple will be shared between you. However, any possessions bought by or gifted to you alone will remain yours.
Spousal and child maintenance
If you are unmarried, there is no obligation for your partner to financially support you after you separate. Similarly, you are not obliged to support your partner. However, different rules apply if you have children. Please see our advice on child maintenance and Schedule 1 claims.
An unmarried father may not have parental responsibility for his child if the child was born before 2003. Parental responsibility will need to be acquired through agreement from the mother or an order of the court. If a child was born after 2003, the father will be able to have parental responsibility if his name is on the birth certificate. It will then be up to the parents to reach an agreement with regards to the care of the child. If not, the court can intervene if so requested.
Your partner will not have automatic rights to inherit from you if you die without a Will. Your partner may need to make an application to the court for their needs to be met.
How to protect yourself
If you are French and living unmarried with your partner in England, you can still take steps to protect yourself:
Consider preparing an agreement at the beginning of your relationship. This can set out what each of you will contribute to the relationship and how to separate any assets acquired together should the relationship end. Parents can also set out how they wish to care for their children and what child maintenance should be provided.
Consider preparing a Declaration of Trust if you are buying a property or moving in together. This sets out who owns the property and any beneficial interest the other party might have. Review this document regularly with your lawyers.
Consider drafting a Will which sets out what you may want to give your partner if you die. You can use a Will to cover future ownership of your assets. For example, this could be a property, car, jewellery or investments.
If you need help or have further questions in relation to Anglo-French family law, contact us for an informal chat. We advise on disputes between unmarried couples, whether they relate to finance, children or both.