Unmarried Couples who live together are known in law as cohabitating couples
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It has become increasingly common for couples to live together. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that the number of unmarried couples living together has risen by 25.8% over the past decade, making it the fastest growing family type in the UK. Unmarried couples who live together are known in law as cohabitating couples. Despite the popularity of cohabitating couples, the law unfortunately does not offer the same legal rights to them as those available to married couples. It is a common misconception that unmarried couples have the same financial rights against each other on the breakdown of the relationship as married or civil partnered couples do. Sadly the “common law spouse” term is a myth.
For this reason it is important to consider what is right for you. A cohabitation agreement can provide peace of mind and security for your future.
How can a Cohabitation Agreement help?
The best way to protect your property when in a cohabiting relationship is to enter into a cohabitation agreement. This documents in clear terms how you have agreed property is owned and should be divided if the relationship were to break down.
Cohabitation agreements are legally binding and enforceable and provide peace of mind and security for the future. They can be entered into at any time, but the best protection is to have one in place before you move in with your partner.
Whilst a cohabitation agreement involves an additional expense and could be awkward to discuss with a partner, we have seen how they save a great deal of money and unhappiness if a relationship breaks down. It can ensure that your current wishes are properly reflected, providing protection in the event of a separation. This is vital if you are purchasing a property in joint names and contributing unequally to the purchase costs, but also important if one of you is purchasing the property in your sole name and the other partner is living there.
Without a Cohabitation Agreement, there is a risk that the partner may claim an interest in the property into which he or she has moved without making any financial contribution. This can lead to costly and lengthy litigation to resolve and, ultimately, if the partner’s claim is borne out, it could lead to the property being sold and them receiving a share of its value.
What are the benefits of having a cohabitation agreement?
Our clients enter into cohabitation agreements in order to provide the following:
- Clarification as to how their financial affairs are conducted during the relationship.
- Certainty as to what their financial interests and claims against the other person will be in the event of the breakdown of the relationship.
- To protect and preserve assets built up, inherited or gifted prior to a cohabiting relationship and to ensure those are ringfenced from any future claim in the event of the breakdown of the relationship.
FAQs: Unmarried Couples
Do unmarried couples who live together have the same legal rights as married couples?
No. There is no automatic entitlement to make financial claims against your partner if you are cohabitating and unmarried, unlike if you are married.
If your partner dies and they haven’t made a will, you have no automatic entitlement to inherit anything from them, including your family home if it’s in their name or if you own it jointly as tenants in common.
What is a ‘common law husband/wife?’
There is a misconception that if you have been living with your partner for a long period of time you are a ‘common law husband/wife’ and have the same legal rights as a married couple if your relationship were to break down. This is not true. There is no such thing as a common law marriage.
What happens to our home if we split?
An unmarried partner’s ability to make a financial claim on the family home is a highly complex area of law and will depend enormously on the specific circumstances of the property purchase and what happened after that.
Relevant circumstances include:
- Whether the property is in joint names of both partners or the sole name of one
- Whether both partners contributed towards the purchase, mortgage or renovation of the property
- Whether there is evidence of an intention to share the value of the property and whether there is been any change to that intention
If there is no written evidence, then the court will look at each person’s actions and intentions. It is the person who asserts that the shared intention was different to how the property is owned on paper who must prove to the court that this was the case, which can be very difficult to do.
Does my partner have rights to my property that is in my sole name?
Your partner may sometimes acquire rights to a property in your sole name if they contribute to the purchase price or the mortgage repayments.
If you do not wish to share the value of your property with them it is important not to let them contribute to the value of the property and to be clear with them from the outset that you do not intend for them to gain an interest in your home.
I do not want to marry my partner, what can I do to protect myself?
The best way to protect your property assets when in a cohabiting relationship is to enter into a cohabitation agreement. This documents in clear terms how you have agreed property is owned and should be divided if the relationship were to break down.
Cohabitation agreements are legally binding and enforceable and provide peace of mind and security for the future. They can be entered into at any time, but the best case is to have one in place before you move in with your partner.
Whilst a cohabitation agreement involves an unwanted expense and could be awkward to discuss with a partner, we have seen how they save a great deal of expense and unhappiness if a relationship breaks down. As well as entering into a cohabitation agreement, if you are buying a property in joint names you should also take advice from our specialist property solicitors about how the ownership of the property will be held legally. They can ensure that your current wishes are properly reflected in the purchase paperwork, which again provides protection in the event of a separation. This is vital if you are contributing unequally to the purchase costs.
Is making a will important?
Making a will is always a sensible precautionary step, especially if you own property or other assets. We can help guide you through the important choices. Remember that surviving cohabitees don’t automatically inherit from their partner nor do they inherit under the intestacy rules if their partner dies without having made a will.
Can I get any money to help look after the children after the relationship?
Regardless of whether you are married or not, parents have a financial duty towards their children and a non resident parent is required to pay child maintenance upon the breakdown of the relationship. This is governed either by the Child Maintenance Service or the family court depending on the financial resources of the family and where they live.
The family court can also order one party to make money available to the other to meet the child’s financial needs including for school fees, necessary expenses and to provide a home for them. Overall the court makes the decision according to what is best for the child and takes into account the resources of the parents, the needs of the child including any disability and how it was planned that a child would be educated.
Relationship breakdown can be devastating whatever your family matrix, but when combined with a legal framework that is difficult to navigate, we find many people need clear and compassionate legal support.
Our advice to those facing a relationship breakdown is clear and independent, and based on many years’ experience of children, families and the law. If there are children involved then we will help you focus on what is best for them. If there are financial matters to be resolved, we will help you reach an amicable and fair agreement.
Our friendly team is very experienced in advising those living together about cohabitation agreements or the consequence of a separation. We pride ourselves on our care and support. Please get in touch if you would like to know more.