Newsletter

Cohabiteaes

Safeguarding Your Property Rights

Despite the ‘common law” marriage myth, it is possible to live together with your partner and have children together and then walk away without taking any financial responsibility for each other. In many cases this creates financial hardship for families who chose to live together and not marry.

The laws in this area are complex and out of date.

“Prevention is better than cure!”

We advise you consult us at an early stage so we can help protect you, your property and your family before or whilst living together. You can draw up a legal agreement called a cohabitation contract, also known as a living together agreement, to formalise aspects of your relationship. Be careful though - it’s not clear whether living together agreements are legally enforceable, but you can always draw up legally enforceable agreements on specific matters such as a jointly-owned home.

Ask about our Living Together Protection Package for a Fixed Fee.

There are some things you might like to consider if you are living together:

Banking

If you have separate bank accounts and one of you dies then the money in that account becomes part of your partner’s estate and cannot be used until the estate is settled, even if the money is yours to inherit as part of your partner’s will.

If you have a joint account then, if one of you dies, the other has complete access to it. On the other hand, if you separate then you need to be careful that the other partner does not access the funds or run up an overdraft on the account for which you will be liable.

Children

If you are living together and have children then you have parental responsibility if:

  •  You are the child’s birth mother
  •  You are the child’s father and your name is on the child’s birth certificate (for births registered after 1/12/03)
  •  You subsequently marry the child’s mother
  •  You enter into a Parental Responsibility Agreement
  •  You get a Parental Responsibility Order from the court
Child Contact and Financial Support

If you separate you can make an informal arrangement between yourselves for contact with the children. If you can’t reach agreement then you can apply to the court for a child arrangements order.

Both parents are financially responsible for supporting their children, whether you were married, in a civil partnership, living together or were separate. The father has financial responsibilities even if he is not named on the child’s birth certificate; the same is true of the mother if the child lives with the father.

Death and Inheritance

If a partner does not have a will and dies then the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything, apart from jointly owned property. Each partner has to make a will if they want the other partner to inherit anything. If you do inherit property or money then, unlike with married couples, you will not be exempt from inheritance tax.

If your partner dies with debts in their name only then you have no liability for those debts, unless you acted as guarantor. You may be responsible for debts in joint names or other debts where you have ‘joint and severable’ liability.

Property

If you are the unmarried partner of a tenant then you normally have no rights to stay in the property if the tenant asks you to leave, so joint tenancy is usually preferable. If you are married then both partners have the right to live in the matrimonial home, irrespective of whose name the tenancy is in.

If you are unmarried and own a home then things can get complicated. If one of you is the sole owner then you have the right to stay in the home, though the other partner might be able to claim a ‘beneficial interest’. However, the partner that doesn’t own the home can be asked to leave. If you are joint owners then you have equal rights. If you have children then there are further complications.

Next of Kin

Unlike a married couple, if you are living together you will not automatically be recognised as next of kin - it all depends on the organisation you are dealing with, such as a hospital or insurance company.

Ask a Taylor Bracewell Solicitor