A major change in the law in Scotland in 2006 gave couples who live together more rights than they’d had previously — and more rights than cohabiting couples get anywhere else in the UK. However, these rights are still limited. Find out more:
What the law in Scotland says
The law in Scotland doesn’t mean that couples who live together have automatic rights or responsibilities. What it does do is put a safety net in place so that if you and your partner split up, you may be able to make a claim against them or – if they die – against their estate. It also gives both parents certain rights and responsibilities to their children.
SAVVY TIP: There’s a common misconception that when a couple who lived together in Scotland split up, one person will automatically have to pay the other a ‘financial settlement’, but that’s simply not the case.
Marriage by ‘habit and repute’
Let’s get some other myths out of the way. Many believe – wrongly – that ‘common law’ marriage has been recognised in Scotland for a number of years. The truth is that it’s never been the case, although in the past it was possible for couples to claim similar rights to married couples if they lived together and were thought to be married. Not many couples were able to take advantage of it and it was abolished in the Family Law Act of 2006.
Your rights if you break up
Should you and your partner split up when you’ve been living together in Scotland, you may be able to make a claim against him or her for financial support, as long as you do so within a year of the breakup of your relationship. However, these rights don’t apply to everyone. To qualify you must:
1. Have been ‘economically disadvantaged’ by the relationship. An example of this would be if you gave up work to look after your children, in which case you’d have to show how this has affected your ability to earn after the breakup. Likewise, if you’d benefited from your partner economically during the relationship, he or she may be able to make a claim against you.
SAVVY TIP: If you went to court, the court would look at how you lived together, and whether, for example, you had joint bank accounts and/or had supported each other financially.
2. Have children with your partner and have what’s called the ‘economic burden’ of caring for them.
SAVVY TIP: The economic burden isn’t related to the cost of bringing up your children. That’s completely separate and is covered by the Child Maintenance Service (which has taken over the work of the Child Support Agency).
The Act also says that household goods bought while you lived together will be assumed to be owned jointly and their value should be divided equally.
SAVVY TIP: You don’t have to live in Scotland to benefit from the protection of the Family Law Act. If either of you were born there or live there, you may be able to bring an action. Take expert legal advice.
Death of your partner
If you were living with your partner and they died without a will (called dying intestate), you would be able to make a claim against the value of money and assets they left through the courts.
SAVVY TIP: You have only six months from the death of your partner to bring a claim against their estate.
What could affect the outcome?
The judge would look at a range of factors, including whether you supported each other financially while you lived together and whether you kept your finances separate or had joint bank accounts.
Where to get more information
There’s a useful booklet that you can download from the Scottish government website. It explains — in clear and straightforward terms — what your rights are and how you can enforce them.
Citizens Advice in Scotland has lots of information about living together and marriage.
The housing charity Shelter also has a guide to living together, with information about your rights if you rent your home.
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