Not knowing your rights on separation – a recipe for disaster?

Natasha Methven, prompted by the recent media speculation on Heston Blumenthal’s separation from Stephanie Gouveia, and whether they were in fact legally married, explores the very limited claims the unmarried cohabitee has in the event the relationship comes to an end.

I was interested to read the latest press reports suggesting that Heston Blumenthal, British celebrity chef, has split from his partner, Stephanie Gouveia, and the speculation as to whether Blumenthal and Gouveia were ever married, after a wedding ceremony in the Maldives. This is a debate which echoes the discussions surrounding Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall’s own Hindu wedding ceremony in Bali in the 1990s.

Hall was said to be blindsided when she began divorce proceedings and Jagger announced the ceremony had not been official. Similarly, Gouveia has allegedly said that her marriage to Blumenthal was not recognised by legal authorities and therefore “does not constitute a marriage in a legally binding sense.”

To complicate matters further, and if the press reports are to be believed, Blumenthal announced last week that he plans to officially marry his new partner, Melanie Ceysson.

If legally married, and should that marriage later end in divorce, Blumenthal and Ceysson’s claims, subject to the terms of a Prenuptial agreement (that I would recommend!), would be settled with reference to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, including in respect of capital and income, pensions and maintenance.

By comparison, Gouveia’s claims as a former unmarried cohabitee are treated very differently.

So, what does it mean if you are not legally married?

There is a myth that if you are living together, you are entitled to the same rights on separation as legal spouses. This is a common misconception, often referred to as “the myth of the common law spouse.” The reality is that unmarried cohabitees are treated entirely separately to married couples upon relationship breakdown.

If Gouveia was not married to Blumenthal, she should take advice to understand the limited scope of her financial claims as an unmarried cohabitee.

So, what claims do unmarried cohabitees have?

With claims being limited, property is a key consideration. If you have a legal interest in your family home (i.e. you are a joint legal owner with this being reflected on the title deeds), your rights are recognised. However, if you do not have a legal interest, the burden is on you to prove you have acquired an interest in the property. You will have to demonstrate that the Court should look beyond what the deeds say and construct an interest in the property on a beneficial basis.

There are three ways a beneficial interest can arise:

1. Resulting Trust

  • Direct financial contribution to the purchase of the property registered solely in your partner’s name; and
  • Evidence of the payment.

 

2. Constructive Trust

  • An agreement, understanding, or promise between you and your partner as to the ownership of the property, this to be express or implied; and
  • Evidence you acted to your disadvantage or altered your position because of the agreement.

 

3.  Proprietary Estoppel (a claim to enforce a broken promise)

You must prove:

  • That a representation or assurance has been made to you by your partner that you have an interest in the property;
  • That you relied on this promise; and
  • That you suffered a detriment as a result of that reliance.

 

If there are children of the relationship, you can also consider provision under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, albeit as financial support for the children rather than for you directly. This, however, goes beyond the scope of this article.

LMP can assist with the preparation of cohabitation agreements, and advise on your rights (both legal and equitable) as an unmarried cohabitee. If you are not legally married, and would like to discuss your rights as an unmarried cohabitee, please contact me, Natasha Methven, or any member of the LMP team.

Exploring Mediation in Family Mediation Week

Kate Stovold highlights the process, its advantages and use.

In my ten years of practice, I have witnessed an increasing popularity in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), and rightly so. Court, in my view, is the last resort. I am therefore pleased to engage with and support campaigns such as Family Mediation Week (16 – 20 January 2023). It is also a great pleasure and privilege to have completed my training as an all-issues mediator with Resolution.

For me, it is refreshing when a client openly expresses a wish to avoid Court. There is an opportunity to be seized and I think it falls to lawyers to signpost their clients appropriately. It is well-documented that Court applications face delays, last-minute cancellations, unreliable judicial continuity etc. If, through mediation, parties can strike while the iron is hot, every effort must follow to facilitate the referral and expediently.

Mediation is voluntary with the onus on participants to commit to the process and the opportunity it presents for collaborative problem solving without apportionment of blame. If the participants engage with an open mind, an ability to listen and hear each other, and a willingness to resolve their issues, it should be beneficial. Open and honest dialogue promotes improved communication and provides a future-focussed resolution, particularly with the safety net of the confidential nature of the process (subject to safeguarding concerns) throughout which the mediator must remain neutral as to outcome.

That open engagement should be enhanced by the knowledge that mediation is conducted without prejudice to legal proceedings. With the exception of financial disclosure, the detail of the conversations cannot be disclosed. Hopefully, that widens the scope for negotiation and compromise.

The ultimate authority in mediation rests with the participants; an opportunity for them to retain ownership of the process and, most importantly, the decisions being made about their family. It is my experience that clients, when committing to financial or child arrangements, are more likely to honour them in the long term if the decision was theirs at the outset. Mediation, as a process, promotes empowerment – letting the participants know that they can take control of the decision-making. The hope is a win-win outcome reflecting compromise and flexibility.

It will be helpful for participants to know that the mediator must act even-handedly and impartially. Acting fairly and with integrity is also important, with mechanisms in place to ensure confidentiality. That provides a safe space for constructive dialogue.

Participants to mediation have a right to seek independent legal advice, and that must be explained to them. Appointing a solicitor is a personal choice and just as a client should feel comfortable in the mediation process, so they should feel comfortable with their solicitor. On all fronts, a client should feel understood and confident that their objectives are understood.

Knowing that multiple issues can be discussed and decided in mediation is likely to attract more couples to the process. That multifaceted approach allows participants to resolve all issues arising upon relationship breakdown. As child arrangements impact on financial arrangements and vice versa, that serves to enhance the effectiveness of the process. The individuality of the family unit is respected.

If mediating child arrangements, families will benefit if they prioritise the needs of the children and, where age appropriate, their wishes and feelings. That a child aged 10 or older can meet with the mediator, subject to safeguards and the mediator being qualified to see the child, may enhance the family’s experience.

On separation, it is not uncommon for parents to worry about its impact on the child(ren). Where parents wish to minimise that impact, and agree this as a priority, that can form part of the mediation agenda.

It is that agenda, in broader terms, that affords participants a bespoke service and one that is tailored to their specific requirements: seeking to reduce conflict, ensuring continued stability for children, financial arrangements or prioritising emotional health.   Hence the importance of the individual meetings, an information gathering exercise at the outset of the process, during which the meditator will learn the participant’s priorities and objectives and identify any concerns.

To discuss any family law matter with Kate, please contact her via email ([email protected]) or telephone (07917 015631).

Kate Stovold qualifies as a mediator

A fitting announcement in Family Mediation Week.

LMP is pleased to announce that Kate Stovold has successfully completed her mediation training with Resolution.

Now an all-issues mediator, Kate is looking forward to establishing a mediation practice alongside her traditional family law work.

With a thriving mediation practice of his own, Managing Partner, Simon Pigott, says of Kate’s recent qualification: “I am thrilled that another member of the LMP team has become a qualified mediator and many congratulations are due to Kate on what is a challenging qualification. Our mediation offering, already an area where LMP has received recognition, is now further strengthened. It has been my long held view that mediation offers an invaluable way of resolving difficult and complex family issues and Kate’s qualification enhances the options we can provide to those who need our services.”

For any mediation enquiries, please contact Simon ([email protected]) or Kate ([email protected])

LMP supports Family Mediation Week 2023

Organised by the Family Mediation Council (FMC), Family Mediation Week (16 – 20 January 2023) is an opportunity to raise awareness of family mediation and its benefits to separating families.

The team at LMP is in full support of Family Mediation Week and applauds the goal of the campaign being to “let more people know about the benefits of family mediation and encourage separating couples to think about family mediation as a way of helping them take control, make decisions together and build a positive future for their family”.

LMP’s Managing Partner, Simon Pigott, has a busy mediation practice and he says:

“The lawyers at LMP recognise the benefits of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and opportunities to resolve family disputes out of Court.  Our website shares information about mediation, collaborative practice, arbitration, private hearings and round table meetings. We welcome Family Mediation Week and the opportunity it presents to champion mediation.”

For any mediation enquiries, please contact Simon: [email protected]

Vote for LMP in the Citywealth Magic Circle Awards – “Family/Matrimonial Law Firm of the Year – Specialist” category

Levison Meltzer Pigott (LMP) has been shortlisted in one of the categories at Citywealth’s Magic Circle Awards 2023.  The boutique divorce firm has been selected alongside six other firms for the category “Family/Matrimonial Law Firm of the Year – Specialist”.

You can vote online for LMP by visiting the Citywealth website shortlist page and clicking on the category Family/Matrimonial Law Firm of the Year – Specialist. Voting closes on 10th March 2023.

For over 17 years, the Citywealth Magic Circle Awards have been attracting the leading professionals from the top firms and recognising the achievements of the industry during the past year.  The event is typically attended by over 400 professionals from over 140 organisations, and attendees include leading law firms, trust companies, family offices, tax advisers and investment managers.

The winner will be announced on 17 May 2023 at the awards ceremony.