The number of unmarried couples living together has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017 and is now the fastest growing family type. Unfortunately, the law has not caught up with the times and you could be at risk if the relationship ends.
Family law group, Resolution carried out a survey, which found two-thirds of cohabiting couples wrongly believe “common-law marriage” laws exist and that they acquire rights or develop legal responsibility to support each other financially. This is a misconception and cohabitants have very few rights that arise out of the relationship. You cannot, for example, claim maintenance from your partner (other than child maintenance if applicable) or claim a share of their pension.
If you live in a property in your partner’s name, you do not have an automatic right to any share in the property. To have a claim you would have to show that you both agreed you should have some rights to it (known legally as a “common intention”). This is a complicated area of law and may involve going to court, which can be costly.
If you live in a property that is held in joint names, unless it is clear from an agreement or the title documents, then there is a presumption that it is owned in equal shares and can usually be sold and the proceeds divided equally, although this presumption can be rebutted.
If there are children, then you may be able to make financial claims on their behalf. Depending on the circumstances, you and the children might be able to stay in the house whilst they are dependent. However, once the children have ceased to be dependent, the capital is returned to the parent who provided it.
If your partner dies and has not made a Will you are not entitled to their estate and it will go to their next of kin meaning you could lose your home. If provision has not been made you may be able to make a claim against the estate. However, this can be difficult, costly and time consuming.
Steps to protect yourself
1. Declaration of Trust
If you buy a property jointly, you should always see a lawyer and ask them to draw up a “Declaration of Trust”. This legal document makes clear the parties’ interests in the property and can be invaluable should you split.
2. Cohabitation Agreements
You may also wish to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement to record what you have agreed regarding your arrangements for living together. This can include issues such as who pays which bills, the operation of joint bank accounts, arrangements for financial support, arrangements for children, liabilities, cars and anything else which affects the dealings between a couple.
3. Draw up a Will
It is vital you have a valid Will in place, as cohabitees do not automatically have an entitlement to their partner’s estate if they die without one. A Will sets out clearly what you intend to happen to your interest in your home, your money and personal possessions.
If you wish to find out more about our matrimonial services please contact Deborah Prance on 01252 316316.