In 2016 it was estimated that there were 3.3 million unmarried couples. Unfortunately, in legal terms, a lot of the issues around money and property tend to be directed towards people who are married. Therefore, it is important to be aware of legal issues for unmarried couples.


On a simple level, if each person in a relationship has their own account, then this means each person can have their own money. However, this becomes more complicated with joint accounts.

If a relationship ends, it can result in the money being shared between the two people in the partnership (unless one person does not put money into it, resulting in difficulties accessing the account). If one partner dies, then a partner can continue to withdraw from the joint account, though it is likely that some of this will be claimed as part of the deceased’s estate.


As with accounts, if someone has debt in their own name, then they will be liable for what they owe. With joint loans, one partner can still be liable if another partner stops repaying the debt on the loan. With regard to joint credit cards, this is slightly different as the cardholder can cancel the joint card. However, it is their responsibility to do so.


Pensions can vary- some will very strictly insist that money can only be passed on to a wife. However, some will allow trustees to nominate, while others will allow someone to nominate who the pension can be passed on to.


If one partner owns a property, the other partner can pay into the mortgage while staying there. However, if the couple breaks up, the partner that doesn’t own the property has no legal claim to it. If a couple buys the property together and then they separate then it is divided 50/50, regardless of how much either partner has invested in it.

Parental responsibility

In legal terms, a mother automatically has parental responsibility, as does a married father. For unmarried fathers, they only have parental responsibility if they are jointly registered on a birth certificate (from 1st December 2003), if they have a parental responsibility either agreed with the mother or issued by the court.

If an unmarried couple separate, the father has the same right to apply for child arrangements as a married father. A mother can make decisions on behalf of their children without consulting an unmarried father if they have not been granted this.

Getting advice

It can seem overwhelming, but these are issues that need to be looked at when living with a partner, whether or not you choose to get married. At Larcomes, we realise this is a sensitive and difficult issue, so we know this is not just about getting the right representation but also helping people through the process.

If you would like to discuss your legal position in more detail, or have any concerns regarding accounts, property, child custody or other issues, please contact our experienced legal team today, and we will be happy to go over this with you.