Cohabitation is an increasingly common phenomenon, whereby couples live together on a long-term basis without ever getting married. In 2006 there are approximately 2.3 million UK couples [that’s a staggering one in six couples] living together. What’s more, the same Office for National Statistics study found that 36% of people in England and Wales have been involved in a cohabiting relationship at some stage. If a cohabiting couple then breaks up, it can raise some issues when it comes to the division of assets, arrangement of care for the children and so on. Many cohabiting couples have been together many years: they have built a life together, often buying property, having children and acquiring other assets. As a result, many people assume that if they split up with their cohabitee that they will have the same legal rights as a married couple. But ‘common law marriage’ simply doesn’t exist. Cohabiting couples do have a few more rights than they used to and things are still changing, many cohabitees leave themselves highly vulnerable should their relationship fail, and they should seriously consider putting protection in place should there relationship end.
Cohabitation – what are the risks?
One of the main difficulties cohabiting couples face when they split is that, broadly, they don’t have many, if any legal rights. This means that they might face issues relating to:
• Inheritance – unless you make careful alternative arrangements, you might be liable to pay an unnecessary level of inheritance tax should one of you pass on.
• Living arrangements; depending on what’s in the title deeds [or on the lease] even if you have been together for decades, you may not automatically be entitled to a share in ownership of, or even for a transfer of the tenancy in, your house
• Maintenance, as you are not automatically entitled to this in the event of a split.
• Pensions – if your partner dies, you may not be entitled to a share of their pension, death in-service benefits or proceeds of life insurance policies.
• Parental responsibility – unmarried fathers have no automatic legal rights over any of their own children born before December 1st 2004
What can you do about it?
There are several options that you might like to consider to ensure to protect yourself in case you’re relationship comes to an end. For example, things to think about include:
• You could make sure that both your names appear on the title deeds of your property [ if you own it], or on the tenancy agreement [if you are renting your home]. A Trust Deed stating that you both have an equal share in your house is an alternative.
• Updating your wills to reflect your wishes is critical – especially insofar as leaving any of your property to your partner
• Making sure cohabiting couples with children both have parental responsibility can help to minimise issues relating to the children in the event of you splitting up.
• You could consider a cohabitation agreement, setting out what you would like to happen to your assets in the event of a split.
If you are concerned about any of these issues or if you are splitting from your cohabiting partner, you should speak to a solicitor about your options. This is especially important if you are and your partner are experiencing any disagreement.
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• Just call us on the following numbers for FREE specialist advice
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