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Living together

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Living together or "cohabitation" is the fastest growing type of family in the UK. Between 1996 and 2006 the number of couples living together without marrying increased by over 60%.

If you separate when you have lived together, whatever the length of the relationship, you are not given the same legal protection and rights as if you had married. Mistakenly, more than half the public in the UK believe that there are concepts such as "common law marriage" and "common law man and wife", which do not actually exist in English law.

Although in recent years, there has been a move towards reform, the government has said it wants to see the outcome of research in Scotland, which is unlikely to be reported until next year, before it will consider making new laws.

This leaves those living together, who separate, in an often vulnerable position.

The law relating to those who live together and separate, is often incredibly complex. If you have made financial contributions to a house, or have had children together, you must get legal advice on your situation. How much money you are entitled to from a property and if you can force a sale by way of a Court Order are determined by legal concepts such as constructive, implied and resulting trusts. What financial contributions each of you has made, the way in which you have conducted your finances throughout the relationship, your expectations and intentions are important.

Regrettably, few unmarried couples enter into cohabitation agreements or declarations of trust relating to property when they buy a house together, both of which make the financial outcome of separation a lot more certain.

Often one party stands to gain and the other to lose. The person left in the house may not want to pay a lump sum or face the sale of the house.

Their sense of urgency in trying to sort things out may be a lot less than yours. Court proceedings are often started to get negotiations underway.

You need expert legal advice to ensure that you and your children are protected.