What are the legal rights of unmarried couples separating?

April 20, 2023
Siddique Patel


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In a recent episode of the Faith in Family Law podcast, hosted by gunnercooke Partner Siddique Patel, Elizabeth Darlington discusses the legal rights of unmarried couples. The pair dissect the different legal protections that married couples and cohabiting couples have when they separate. Elizabeth is a Barrister practising in Leeds and the wider UK who focuses on property and finance cases.

What is the current legal position regarding the separation of couples who are not married?

The principles are in relation to property law not family law. If you have been in a cohabiting relationship you might think you need a family solicitor, but the law is property law which is dealt with in the civil courts. The exception for this is if you have children.

Is it in any way more favourable or less favourable than a married couple going through a divorce? What are the main differences?

If you’ve been married then you can rely upon the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and with that it means that you can make applications for things like maintenance, property orders, pension sharing orders. There’s a wide number or orders that you can seek and the court will look at all assets that you have.

It has a relatively broad discretion in terms of the orders that can be made, with the first consideration being given to the welfare of any children, which is dealt with in the family courts. In contrast with relying on the civil court.

Does the civil law not give you the same provisions as the Matrimonial Causes Act?

No it doesn’t, the primary application you would make is in respect to any property. Even then the law is still not regarded as clear.

For more insights from Elizabeth and Siddique listen to the full podcast here.

To contact Siddique, click here.