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Read more articles in: Blog, Family, Family Law, Stuart Daniel

Are you in a ‘de facto relationship’ and could it affect your legal standing?

De facto relationships, often referred to as “common-law partnerships,” pose unique legal challenges that differ from those of a traditional marriage.

A de facto relationship is a long-term, cohabiting partnership between two individuals who are not legally married but live together, sharing a mutual emotional and financial commitment like that of a married couple.

Whilst such relationships do not enjoy the automatic legal protections that come with matrimony, certain rights and responsibilities still apply.

Understanding these is crucial for individuals who are in, or contemplating entering, a de facto relationship.

Property rights

In the absence of formal legal structures, property division can become a contentious issue where a de facto relationship breaks up.

In England and Wales, the law does not enable broad financial claims to be pursued against capital, pensions and income in de facto relationships, unlike in marital separations.

Instead, property claims are generally determined by evidence of an agreement as to how the financial or beneficial interest in a property should be shared, sometimes involving consideration of contributions made by each party, either financially or through actions like homemaking and childcare.

It’s advisable to have a cohabitation agreement and a Declaration of Trust in place to delineate the property rights of each party clearly before committing to property ownership.

Financial support

Unlike married couples, partners in a de facto relationship are not able to claim financial provision by way of maintenance upon separation.

However, certain provisions may apply in some circumstances, especially if children are involved.

Child maintenance is a legal obligation and will be determined based on the non-residential parent’s income.

Parental rights

Both parents have equal parental responsibility, provided they are named on the birth certificate. This means that both parents must agree upon key decisions affecting a child’s life such as education, medical treatment, and name.

Legal issues might arise, however, if the couple separates and cannot agree on care and living arrangements.

It is vital to discuss these issues with a solicitor before they arise.

Inheritance rights

Another area of concern for many is inheritance.

Without a valid Will, de facto partners are not automatically entitled to inherit from each other’s estates.

Instead, the laws of intestacy will apply, which prioritise immediate family members such as children or parents over a de facto partner.

To ensure your partner is protected in the case of your death, creating a Will with the help of a solicitor is strongly advised.

Legal documentation

Given the above-listed complexities, de facto couples may consider entering into a Cohabitation Agreement or a Declaration of Trust to clarify their intentions regarding property and financial arrangements.

These legal documents can offer some level of security and can mitigate future disputes but should always be written in the presence and with the assistance of a qualified solicitor.

De facto relationships may lack the innate legal protections that come with marriage, but they are far from legally void and come with their own rights and regulations.

With careful planning and awareness of the legal landscape, partners can safeguard their individual and common interests efficiently.

For tailored advice on any of these issues, consult one of our solicitors.

Stuart Daniel

Head of Family Department

I qualified as a Solicitor in 2006 and now specialise in divorce, financial settlements, childcare arrangements and Pre Nuptial Agreements. I have many years’ experience as a private family lawyer having worked with two other local firms before returning to Mander Hadley, where I first undertook work experience during my university studies.