It’s a simple, albeit distressing, fact of life that relationships can break down, no matter how long the couple in question have been together for. At Higgins Miller we specialise in all areas of family law and are well versed in dealing with issues such as custody of children and financial issues upon separation. Although our expertise rests in providing legal advice, we never lose sight of the fact that life events such as these are often deeply distressing and highly stressful. Our team specialises in providing advice which deals with all of the practical issues without ever losing sight of the emotional component, offering support whilst guiding clients toward the best possible resolution.
In the event of a legal separation taking place, when a couple – whether same sex or of different sexes – who have been cohabiting cease to live together, the issue of resolving the financial situation of both partners is often the one which causes the most friction and argument. This might particularly be the case upon the dissolution of a relationship in which one partner earned a significantly higher income that the other, leaving the latter hoping to negotiate a separation agreement which caters for their financial needs in the future. In many cases we endeavour to facilitate mediation services, striving to come to an agreement in a relatively amicable manner and, above all, to avoid the stress and expense of formal legal action.
What many of the people who come to speak to us fail to realise is that there are large differences, in legal terms, between a couple who simply live together and a couple who are either married or in a civil partnership. All too often, people use the phrase ‘common law’ wife or husband, without realising that, legally speaking, there is no such thing. People who have simply lived together without entering into a legal partnership of some kind have no legal hold over each other and any financial agreement entered into when the relationship ends will have to be one which is decided voluntarily between the two parties.
In terms of property, for example, which generally means the home which the two cohabiting people have shared, the difference between the two situations – being in a marriage or civil partnership as opposed to simply cohabiting – is extremely pointed. When a marriage or civil partnership breaks up and an agreement cannot be reached, the court can decide who stays in the ‘marital home’, often on the basis of the decision which offers the most stability for any children involved. The court also has the ability to adjust the share of the property that each receives. This decision will take place regardless of which half of the partnership has been legally regarded as the ‘owner’ of the property. In the case of a relationship which is neither a marriage nor a civil partnership, however, the person who owns the property continues to do so after the relationship ends, with the other partys claims being restricted to strict property pricinples such as contributions made to the purchase.
The same applies to all other assets, and to any responsibility to provide financial support after the end of a relationship. Although both halves of a cohabiting relationship will have a financial responsibility toward any children resulting from the partnership, neither will have to provide financial support for the other. In relationships which have lasted many years, and in which one partner has been financially reliant upon the other, this set of circumstances can often lead to genuine hardship
We recognise that most couples, when separating, are looking, above all else, for a ‘clean break’ and the chance to simply get on with the rest of their lives. Meeting together with legal representatives to draw up a financial agreement setting out the rights and responsibilities of each partner – as reached via discussion and mediation – is far and away the quickest and least stressful means of ensuring that this can be the case. At Higgins Miller we specialise in drawing up such separation agreements and have the legal expertise and customer service skills required to ensure that the process is as swift and stress free as it can possibly be.
To find out more, call us on 0161 429 7251 or email us at [email protected]. An initial legal aid appraisal, lasting up to 20 minutes, can be carried out in person or over the phone free of charge, whilst, if necessary, a Fixed Fee first appointment will cost just £50 (Plus VAT). The wider details of the various ways in which we approach the issue of case funding can be found here.