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Before you put a ring on it


A firm tabloid favourite, used without reservation or hesitation, is the continual use of the phrase “common law husband and wife” as if it is real and exists in law. It doesn’t.

Put simply, English law does not recognise a legal or financial relationship between couples who do not marry. This means that any couple who live together have little protection at the end of their relationship with which to safeguard their legal rights unlike those who marry and automatically secure legal rights against the other. Neither party has a legal duty to support the other financially and the only provision that applies in this circumstance to those living together is financial claims for children whether that is income (not covered by the CMS- formerly CSA), capital or property claims.

So what about those who are engaged but not yet married?

They fall into a unique category and enjoy similar protection to any law which relates to the property rights of that of a husband and wife. Although agreements to marry are not enforceable as a legally binding contract, all that is needed to show is that there was an express agreement to marry and that agreement has been broken.

There is a strict time frame of 3 years within which to ask for the courts assistance from the date of termination of the engagement under the provision of the Law Reform (miscellaneous provisions)

Act 1970. This gives the court wide discretion to decide on any question in relation to property ownership in which either or both of the parties to the engagement have a beneficial interest.

In addition, couples can ask a court to decide upon the division of contents of the family home or the return of property if removed by the other. The court can also transfer tenancies and offer compensation.

What about gifts between couples?

As for gifts between couples, the general rule is that unless it was given with reservation that gift remains the property to whom it was gifted. The same applies for engagement rings so it is worth

while remembering that if you are to propose and the ring is a family heir loom you might want to make it a condition (in writing ideally) that in the event that the engagement is called off and do not marry that the engagement ring is returned.

So before you put a ring on it think very carefully and secure your position as much as you can at the outset. To protect your proprietary interests discuss the options with your conveyancing solicitor and family law specialist and reserve the right to the return of substantial gifts in the event of separation.

If you would like to discuss this issue in more detail or would like to consider your legal options with our family solicitors in Bournemouth please contact Lindsay Halliwell on 01202 294566 or [email protected].

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