The assumption that many have is that they are protected under the legal framework of “common law marriage.” What would happen if a man and a woman lived together for several years, each party contributing financial assistance to their well-being, and finally broke-up? The question would be who would benefit? In some instances, a child is not involved. This paper will try to give an in-depth analysis of the extent to which a trustee is entitled to a portion of the trust property if the property is registered in the name of one partner in a cohabitation relationship that breaks before marriage. In seeking legal assistance, the trusted partner will be the accuser while the beneficiary will be the defendant/accuser.
‘A patchwork of legal rules’ are entailed in the legal rights available to cohabitants upon relationship breakdown.1 This is because the procedure of reclaiming a right over a property in a cohabiting situation is complex, expensive and uncertain to rely on and not applicable to family circumstances.2 This can be highlighted by the disparity that exists with the relief available to married couples under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (MCA) (Hale, 2004), which enables the court to deal with the entirety of a couple’s assets and provide for complete discretion when making orders, with the courts ‘largely left to get on with it for themselves.’.3
The property that may be under contention if registered under one-party there might be no great problem. Insole ownership cases, the difficulty arises for the non-legal owner who must traverse their way through strict property law and complex equitable principles under the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, which is supposed to establish an equitable interest in the property. There are also complications that arise in regard to joint ownership cases and this precedence has been hugely used to determine the cases of a cohabitee.
The reason why this is largely the case is that the present law perceives cohabiting couples at the completion of their relationship as two unrelated individuals (Wong, 2003).