25th November 2019
This week (25 November – 29 November) is Resolution’s ‘Cohabitation Awareness Week’ and we are looking at what you should know if you are living with your partner or considering moving in together.
If you and your partner aren’t married or in a civil partnership, but are living together, then you may be surprised to learn that you have very little legal protection in the event of the relationship coming to an end.
Resolution and many family law campaigners are urging for the law to change and for more legal protection to be provided for cohabiting couples that separate. But this is still in the relatively early stages and if successful, will still be a long time before any changes are implemented.
So, what do you need to know about your position if you are living with your partner? And what can you put in place to give peace of mind?
Many people are still under the impression that if they have lived together for a while that they will be ‘common law husband and wife’. This is very much a myth and couples that live together, for however long, are not entitled to any of the benefits or legal protection that comes with being married or in a civil partnership.
Where a property is held in one party’s name, the partner not named on the deeds may be left with no protection or legal interest in the property despite living together or paying towards the property. Should the relationship come to an end the person without a legal claim to the property may be asked to leave without any fall-back position.
Upon divorce it is possible for one party to be ordered to pay financial support to the other. However for couples who live together there is no entitlement – even if you have a joint mortgage, assets or debt together. If you have children together (and the father is named on the birth certificate) you should receive child maintenance support but this will not take on board any property or household running costs.
Only couples that are married or in a civil partnership are able to make a claim on their ex-spouse’s pension. Many couples that live together long term may have entwined their finances or one party may have a much smaller pension pot; however they would have no entitlement to an ex-partner’s pension fund.
When someone passes away that is living with a partner (unmarried or not in a civil partnership) then the surviving partner will not be automatically entitled to any of the assets, which could include a property. In the absence of a will the state will decide upon how the estate is inherited under the Intestacy Rules.
Top Tips To Protect Yourself
The good news is that there are options available to couples who live together, or want to live together without being married or entering into a civil partnership.
Option 1 – You could enter into a ‘Cohabitation Agreement’. This is a legal agreement between the two parties that sets out what will happen in the event of the relationship breaking down. It is a very sensible step to take if your circumstances are more complicated or your finances are unbalanced.
Example: Rebecca and Ryan are buying their first house together. Rebecca’s parents have gifted her £25,000 to help her get on the property ladder. The family have agreed between them that if Rebecca & Ryan were to break up in the future, that the house would be sold and Rebecca would get a larger share due to the deposit. To aid this mutual agreement a Cohabitation Agreement can be put together and signed by both Rebecca and Ryan, having taken independent legal advice.
Option 2 – You could write or re-write your existing wills. A will can protect your wealth and set out what should happen to your assets upon death. If you are living with a long term partner you can name them as a beneficiary so that they can continue to live in the joint property or sell it in the future.
Example: Moria and Martin are both divorced and found love again. They have no wish to re-marry but want to ensure that their property that they live in together goes to each other before it goes to their grown up children. A will ensures that this will happen smoothly and can prepare them for various eventualities.
Option 3 – You could put a Pre-Marriage Agreement in place. If you intend on tying the knot in the future or are engaged to be married then you can sign a pre-nuptial agreement that sets out what you have agreed upon should the relationship break down.
Example: Amy and Aiden are engaged but are enjoying a long engagement whilst living together. Aiden inherited a property from his late grandparents which is mortgage free and he wants to ensure the property is kept in the family should his marriage to Amy not work out. The pre-marriage agreement can set out their agreed intentions that if children are born into the marriage then the property would be classed as a joint asset in the event of divorce, or that the pre-marriage agreement should be reviewed.
Option 4 – You could get married or enter into a civil partnership. Perhaps you have not considered formalising your relationship yet but if it is in your plans then getting married or entering into a civil partnership will give both parties legal protection.
When things are more complicated…
If you are living or considering living with your partner but you have more complex circumstances it may be worth speaking to an expert in this area of law so that you are aware of your position should the relationship not stand the test of time.
If you have children from a previous relationship, have a disabled or vulnerable child, have substantial wealth to protect, own your own business or a portfolio of properties then it would benefit you to have some bespoke advice on what steps are best to take in your own personal situation.
For further information on living together or how to protect yourself in the event of a relationship break down then please get in touch with our friendly and understanding Family Law Team on 01256 844888, email firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to one of our Live Chat assistants online.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.
Lamb Brooks LLP
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