HM Insights

When a relationship ends, are you due a payment for having been economically disadvantaged?

We all do it – well all women I know. We knock a bit of the price of the new dress/shoes/bag we have just bought when showing it to our disinterested other halves. You know how the conversation goes:- 

"Isn't it lovely?"

"yes (although not looking) how much was it?"

"Only fill in a figure at least 20% less than actual price paid".

We are confident financially independent women in all other respects but, without fail, we discount what we say we spend. Maybe guys do the same thing with sports equipment but since that all seems to cost a ridiculous sum already I sincerely hope not. 

In so far as our spending is our own business, no problem. But when a relationship between an unmarried couple ends there is often a review of who paid for what. The legislation provides for a claim arising where one party has been "economically disadvantaged" in the interests of the other or the family and where the other has derived an "economic advantage". Immediately there is room for one party deciding that they have been disadvantaged due to all they have spent "for them both" while things were good - the lavish holidays, the shiny cars and the wild social life, not to mention the mortgage and household running costs.

Whether you have a joint account and both pay into it agreed amounts or each party pays some of the bills, there is almost always going to be an imbalance between who paid for what. The question for lawyers and courts is this: is there an imbalance that requires to be rectified? If you paid at the supermarket a few more times than him, then that's probably too bad. If you ever analyse the detail of your monthly spend, which as family lawyers we need to do regularly for clients, you may be in for a shock. If on reflection, however, one party has genuinely suffered an economic disadvantage (in earning capacity, capital etc) then a balancing payment may be required.

No one really takes issue with a woman who adopts the role of housewife and mother over a long relationship sharing in what her partner has achieved over the same period in terms of house, savings etc. She has given up a career for the sake of the family and they are in effect in a joint venture. In some ways it is more difficult with a short relationship where both are earning (perhaps quite different salaries) and they set things up to pay a share of the bills, with the higher earner paying more than half.

What if only one pays the mortgage or deposit for the house while the other pays for the lifestyle? Does that give the person paying the mortgage a better claim on the house? At the end of the relationship the equity in the house is a tangible asset. The holidays are just fading pictures (if they were ever printed at all). This can and does cause problems, particularly where one person claims that their payments towards the house are "capital" and the other's payments were just daily living or usual spending. There is enough in the legislation to allow both parties to consider that they have a point and so both of them turn to lawyers and a court action develops. If in doubt seek advice as early as possible.

Janice Jones is a Partner in Harper Macleod's Family Law team with more than 20 years experience in all types of actions.

Harper Macleod's team of family solicitors understands that divorce and separation can have a huge impact on your life, and can guide you through the best course of action with sensitivity and objectivity. Getting the best advice is crucial to resolving your situation, and there are many options available to you, from litigation and arbitration to negotiation, mediation and collaboration. We have also designed a number of packaged fees which, in certain circumstances, will let you know from the outset what the costs will be.

To talk to one of our team call 0141 227 9545.