The Shetland blog: Breakdown of a relationship – do you know your rights?

Every month, lawyers from Harper Macleod - the biggest Scottish law firm with an office in Shetland - share their insights on issues which can affect local businesses and individuals.

Jenni Gear, a Family Law solicitor based in Lerwick, looks at what rights unmarried couples have in the event of a relationship breakdown.

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These days, many couples cohabit without marrying. They may buy a property together, have children or start a business. However few people are aware what rights they may have if they decided to separate and what they may be entitled to.

The rights of cohabiting couples are distinct from those who are married and are set out in the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006. This Act allows cohabitants to apply to the court for a financial sum in certain circumstances. The claim must be made within one year of the date of separation.

Claims can be made where one cohabitant believes he or she has been economically disadvantaged by the relationship and can also show the other cohabitant has been economically advantaged as a result of the first cohabitant’s contributions. Contributions may not necessarily be financial. For example if one person gives up their career and stays at home to look after the family, leaving the other person able to build up a successful business, this could give rise to a potential claim.  Awards by the court can also be made where there may be an economic burden for caring for a child or children of the relationship post separation.

The legislation however is complex, and the awards made by the court since the Act came into force have not been particularly consistent. Therefore, if you are unmarried and considering separating, legal advice at an early stage is essential, particularly given the strict one-year time limit for making any claims.

One way of avoiding unwanted claims at the breakdown of a relationship is to enter into a cohabitation agreement. Although this may seem clinical it can avoid a lot of unnecessary distress and uncertainty in the long run.

The purpose of such an agreement is to narrate what should happen in the (hopefully unlikely) event that a couple decide to separate. It can be as detailed as you want. If a couple purchases a property and each put in different amounts of money, the agreement can narrate that they should each get their own amounts back should the relationship breakdown and the property be sold. The agreement could also specify and record what each person should contribute to any household expenditure.

All situations are different and a family solicitor can discuss this with you, so you can make a well informed decision according to your circumstances.

These days, many couples cohabit without marrying. They may buy a property together, have children or start a business. However few people are aware what rights they may have if they decided to separate and what they may be entitled to.

The rights of cohabiting couples are distinct from those who are married and are set out in the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006. This Act allows cohabitants to apply to the court for a financial sum in certain circumstances. The claim must be made within one year of the date of separation.

Claims can be made where one cohabitant believes he or she has been economically disadvantaged by the relationship and can also show the other cohabitant has been economically advantaged as a result of the first cohabitant’s contributions. Contributions may not necessarily be financial. For example if one person gives up their career and stays at home to look after the family, leaving the other person able to build up a successful business, this could give rise to a potential claim.  Awards by the court can also be made where there may be an economic burden for caring for a child or children of the relationship post separation.

The legislation however is complex, and the awards made by the court since the Act came into force have not been particularly consistent. Therefore, if you are unmarried and considering separating, legal advice at an early stage is essential, particularly given the strict one-year time limit for making any claims.

One way of avoiding unwanted claims at the breakdown of a relationship is to enter into a cohabitation agreement. Although this may seem clinical it can avoid a lot of unnecessary distress and uncertainty in the long run.

The purpose of such an agreement is to narrate what should happen in the (hopefully unlikely) event that a couple decide to separate. It can be as detailed as you want. If a couple purchases a property and each put in different amounts of money, the agreement can narrate that they should each get their own amounts back should the relationship breakdown and the property be sold. The agreement could also specify and record what each person should contribute to any household expenditure.

All situations are different and a family solicitor can discuss this with you, so you can make a well informed decision according to your circumstances.

 

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This article originally appeared in the Shetland Times