Now that the Supreme Court has decided that heterosexual couples should be able to enter civil partnerships, there will at least be another option for those who do not wish to marry. However, the reality is that many couples will continue to live together without marrying or entering civil partnerships. Whilst this is obviously socially acceptable in the 21st century, people are very often ignorant of the fact that cohabiting couples still do not have the same legal rights as those who have married or entered civil partnerships. In some contexts cohabiting couples are treated as if they were married, in others they are accorded lesser rights; in yet others, they have no rights at all!
It can come as a shock to people who have lived with their partner for many years to find that when the relationship comes to an end, they will not be entitled to a financial settlement merely because of the length of the relationship. Where there are no children and the property in which they have been living is in the name of only one party, the other may find that they are entitled to nothing with which to set themselves up again. Further, if one of the couple dies without having made provision in their Will for the other, this can result in the survivor becoming homeless if the deceased partner owned the property in which they both lived, although the survivor may be able to make a claim against the estate.
Whether the relationship ends during the couple’s lives or following a death, if the nonlegal owner has contributed financially to the purchase or improvement of the property, they may still be able to claim an interest in it to reflect their contribution but this is by no means straightforward. If they are successful, his can have implications not only for person who is the legal owner, but also for their family members who may have been left the property under their Will.
However, in all of the above scenarios, litigation may be required in order to achieve a satisfactory outcome. It is advisable, therefore, that all these issues are considered at an early stage and preferably before the couple decide to cohabit. We always recommend that consideration is given to the couple setting out what the financial arrangements are going to be and what is intended in respect of their respective interests in any property. This can be done in a Cohabitation Agreement drawn up by one party’s solicitor and signed by both parties after the other has had independent legal advice. It is also important that a Will is made, particularly, as is often the case, one partner is financially dependent on the other. This way complex and costly disputes should be avoided.
For more advice just contact one of our family team who will be pleased to advise you. We offer a free first 30 minute interview at all of our offices.