Insights

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

31/01/2023

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.

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