Moving in with your partner or buying a house together is an exciting prospect, but few couples realise how risky their situation can be from a legal point of view. It may seem outdated, but unmarried couples are not protected by law in the same way that married couples or civil partners are.
Common law marriage does not exist. Sadly, by the time people realise this, it is often too late - the relationship breaks down or a partner dies and it is only then they realise they do not have any legal protection.
It is well worth taking legal advice as soon as you plan to live together to find out:
- What rights you do have;
- Where you and your partner stand in all situations; and
- What you can do to make your position more secure.
The law is very different compared to if you were married and in actual fact can be much more complicated and therefore you should obtain advice from one of our specialist lawyers as soon as possible. We will be able to explain your rights and highlight the circumstances where you or your share of the home could be at risk. We will also discuss whether a cohabitation agreement could be of benefit to you.
Do I need a cohabitation agreement?
A cohabitation agreement is a document that both you and your partner will sign to record how you intend to live, what each of you will pay for, what your shares are in relation to any property or assets that you own and it may also deal with arrangements if you were to have children or if the relationship came to an end.
If you have a property, you should protect your interest in that property, particularly if there has been an unequal contributions. Having a cohabitation agreement will record everyone's intentions in respect of the property. They are seen as 'honourable agreements', which means that not all clauses may be enforced by the courts, however they do limit disagreements and certainly provide some peace of mind. This is a complex area of law and you should seek advice from one of our experienced lawyers.
I have separated from my partner, what am I entitled to?
This is a very complex area and in order to advise you what you may be entitled to, we would need to consider how the assets are owned and whether or not they are owned with a view that each of you would have a share.
If you have children with your partner, you need to think about what the child's surname will be and how to register their birth. It is up to you and your partner what surname you choose for your child, and you can register the child's birth jointly.
Under the law, if you and your partner are not married, the mother of the child has automatic parental responsibility for the child. From 1 December 2003, if the father is jointly registered on the birth certificate, he also has parental responsibility for the child. Otherwise, with our help, you can enter into an agreement to share parental responsibility with your partner. This could be important later if you and your partner split up.
If your partner is ill or dies, you may not be considered as their 'next-of-kin' for medical purposes unless you and your partner make a written agreement beforehand.
If you and your partner have separate bank accounts, you cannot have access to money in your partner's account. If your partner dies the money in their account will become part of their estate. This means that you will not automatically inherit the money unless this is what it says in their will. Unless you make a will, your partner will have no automatic right to a share of your assets if you die, so it is essential to have one if you want your partner or their children to inherit.
If you partner becomes incapable of dealing with their finances then you will not be able to access their money and this could lead to financial difficulties.
You should therefore consider making wills and LPA's to deal with these eventualities and our Wills & Probate Department can assist you with this. Please click here for further information.
How much will it cost?
Our specialist family lawyers will be happy to assist you in relation to a cohabitation agreement and they have a number of funding options available depending on how complex your circumstances are. They may be able to offer a fixed fee.
For more information please contact us online or by phone on 01252 733770 or 020 7842 0800.