Old proverbs still hold true

The law in England and Wales treats married and unmarried couples differently. It is therefore incredibly important to get advice from a family lawyer before either getting married or buying a new house and moving in with a partner. If they don’t, they risk an unwelcome surprise if their relationship ends.

When you get married, the old adage “what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine” essentially applies. If a married couple separate and, eventually, divorce, the Court has the power to consider all of the couples’ assets, regardless of whether they are owned jointly or solely by one party. This includes any pension pots, houses, savings, or investments (to name but a few).

Where one couple wishes to protect their assets before getting married, or even during the marriage, they can seek advice on the prospect of having a pre or post nuptial agreement drawn up. Although it doesn’t necessarily guarantee what would happen in the unfortunate event of the marriage breaking down, it provides the Court with guidance.

However, a different principle applies to those who have chosen not to “tie the knot”. Here, if a couple separate, one party cannot claim against the other’s pension or savings, for example. The only claim they will have is in respect of joint assets, which is usually the house they live in together. If the parties are unable to agree on how to divide any equity, then it will be up to one of them to make an application to the Court. A Judge will look at various different factors, such as what the title to the property shows and the parties’ intentions (both now and at the time of the purchase), in determining how to divide the equity in the house. However, the property being owned by just one party may not necessarily mean that the other has no interest in it.

With many couples buying properties together prior to any wedding bells ringing, they should each consider speaking to a family solicitor to discuss the ownership of that property and the consequences of any separation in the future. It may not be the most romantic of conversations to have with your partner, but another adage springs to mind…”better to be safe than sorry”.

For more information on a prenuptial agreement, cohabitation agreement or divorce, separation or relationship breakdown please contact our senior family law solicitor Heidi Fleming. 

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