It is often thought that, when couples live together, they have similar rights to those who are married or in a civil partnership. However, this is far from the truth, as a barrister found out recently when she lost her case in the High Court.

The barrister, who had lived with a wealthy dentist and businessman before the break-up of their relationship, produced several witnesses to support her claim that a property in Leicestershire the couple had shared was meant to be jointly owned, in spite of the fact that she had not contributed to its purchase. She also argued that she was entitled to be rewarded for the contribution she had made to an equestrian business she had run from the property.

The judge in the case decided that the woman had ‘made her contributions voluntarily and not in the expectation of reward, but in the expectation of a long-term relationship and eventual marriage’. Even more telling was the judge’s comment that had the parties married at or near the beginning of their relationship, the woman would have had a claim for ancillary relief (a financial settlement on divorce), which he was prepared to assume would have entitled her to a substantial award of something like a half of the assets. Instead, she obtained only the repayment of money she had loaned her fiancé and the return of her engagement ring. However, she did receive a half share of the couple’s Italian villa, towards which she had made no contribution, because that property was held in joint names.

The key issue here was that the claimant had not made a demonstrably significant contribution to the purchase of the UK property and had neither married her fiancé nor had her right to a share in the property put into legal form. Her rights in law were therefore minimal.

Click here for advice on cohabitation agreements.

Click here for guidance on documenting shared ownership of a property.