There is a common misconception that if you have lived with someone as an unmarried couple for a certain period of time then you are treated as “common law spouses” and you can therefore make a financial claim against that person post separation, much in the same way that married couples can claim against one another. This is a myth, you could live with a partner without marrying for your entire life and under the current law, and you would still not be able to make a financial claim against them in the same way as you could if you had been married.
Often the primary concern when a relationship breaks down is the children, not only in terms of the arrangements concerning how much time they will spend with each person but also in terms of how their financial needs will be met when one household is effectively split into two. With the number of children being born outside of wedlock increasing on a yearly basis, family lawyers are becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of awareness when it comes to options available to meet children’s financial needs.
Most people are aware of the Child Maintenance Service which has replaced the Child Support Agency. The Child Maintenance Service encourages people to deal with child maintenance between themselves without the need for them to formally intervene and there is an online calculator on their website which both parents can use as a guide to calculate the amount due. Claims can be made for payments over and above child maintenance such as provision towards school fees and where the parent who does not have care of the children earns a significant amount they can be ordered to pay top up maintenance.
There is also a piece of legislation which is rarely used and it not well known about by the general public. Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 allows one parent to claim financial provision from the other parent for the benefit of the children. Unmarried couples need to appreciate that this is not the same as claiming financial provision for yourself, as you might be entitled to do had you been married. The Court can make orders that one parent should provide the other with funds which might be used, for example, to buy a home so that the children have a roof over their heads. Had the couple been married, it is quite possible that the parent looking after the children would have kept that property even once the children attained 18 and became independent. The difference when the parents are not married is that when the children become independent the house has to be sold and the funds paid back to the parent who provided them unless the parent living in the house can find some other way to repay those funds.
If you are unsure about your rights following a separation then you should speak to a family lawyer. Going to Court to make claims such as a Schedule 1 claim can be time consuming and expensive and it is therefore worth taking a bit of time with a Solicitor to see what your rights are and whether something can be negotiated without the need for litigation.