Despite marriage or civil partnership being the most traditional family set up in the UK, co-habiting couples are actually the fastest growing family type!
Although living with a partner is obviously the most natural progression within a relationship, little thought is often given to the legal implications that may arise in this arrangement. While marriage and civil partnership is a legal status that gives you rights over areas such as estates and inheritance and in many areas, allows both parties to become joint owners– cohabiting does not give you these obligations and automatic rights.
To explain further, Taylor Rose TTKW have put together the guide below.
Cohabitation Rights – Finances
As you have probably experienced, co-habiting couples are not legally obliged to financially support each other. Neither do you gain joint ownership of financial investments or savings; in essence, the ownership of such things are not affected by co-habiting.
Logically, items that were yours prior to moving in together, remain to be solely yours! Any items that you buy with your own financial means are also solely yours and items that are gifted to you….are also yours and yours alone!
Many couples buy items together, and in the eyes of the law – it is owned in the shares that it was bought.
Financial debts is an area that understandably, causes the most concern. Debts such as credit cards in joint names means each party is liable – regardless of who is responsible for the spending; and if one partner fails to pay – the other can be pursued for the full amount that is owed. Both parties are also liable for items such as household and utility bills.
Debt that has been accrued in one partner’s name does not become a joint debt – but can become an issue when payments are not made and the debt is passed onto a collection agency. These agencies obtain a high court writ and can remove items from a property if the ownership cannot be proved.
Any benefits that you claim individually may also be affected by your partner’s income.
In the unfortunate event that one partner was to pass away, a cohabiting partner does not have automatic inheritance rights, but if there is a will they may have been named as a beneficiary. If this is the cases, any inheritance may be subjected to heritance tax just as they would for a married couple. For couples that have been cohabiting as ‘man and wife’ for longer than two years, a claim can be made for a financial settlement if the partner was not named in the will, but there are other beneficiaries – this can become a lengthy and complicated process and you may find that you are entitled to a limited share.
Cohabitation Rights – Children
It’s commonplace in today’s society for couples to have children together without being married, and in this instance, it is the mother exclusively that is automatically awarded parental responsibility. This means that the mother is legally entitled to make important decisions without the permission of her partner.
The mother’s partner is awarded parental responsibility if he is named on the birth certificate or there is a parental responsibility agreement, a parental responsibility or child arrangements order has been granted or the couple get married.
In the event that a cohabiting couple separate, the circumstances are as such;
• The partner that doesn’t live with the children may be required to pay maintenance.
• If you have previously been a step-parent, a split does not automatically mean that you are absolved of responsibilities if you supported them financially as part of the family.
• Decisions are always made in the children’s best interest – not on which partner has the parental responsibility. Both parties are entitled to apply to the court in instances where an arrangement is not mutually agreed.
Where children are concerned, the law is very much the same for co-habiting couples as married couples.
Cohabitation Rights – Property
Sharing a home with your partner does not automatically provide you with rights to the property and problems commonly occur when one partner moves into a property currently owned or rented by the other.
In the case of rented properties, it is exclusively the tenant or tenants that are named on the agreement that are awarded rights to live in the property. If you are not named on the tenancy agreement then take note;
• You must obtain consent from the landlord before you move into the property.
• The tenant that is named on the agreement has the right to ask you to leave the property at any time (after providing reasonable notice)
• If the named tenant leaves the property – you have no legal right to remain, unless a new agreement is created with the landlord.
If your partner owns a property, the rules are comparable; the owner of the property is legally entitled to request that anyone else living leaves. Decisions are also not required to be agreed to by both parties, for instance, the partner that owns the property can decide to sell without consulting their partner. However, in some cases where a property is solely owned, the partner may be entitled to a share of the money. This can occur when –
• There has been a legal written agreement in which the owner of the property states the non-owner is entitled to a share.
• The non-owner is contributing financially (to the mortgage) and understands that this entitles them to a share.
• A non-owner has legally applied for the right to live in the property – this typically happens when children are involved. The reason given is that it ensures the children’s welfare.
• The non-owner has taken a decision to their own detriment – most commonly leaving a job- and understand that this entitles them to a share of the property.
Couples that are living together and jointly own a property may find that their individual rights are protected but issues can still arise. If the living arrangement was to change, one partner cannot force the other to sell and the remaining partner can even become fully responsible for the mortgage payments.
If a home is jointly owned and one partner was to pass away, the form of ownership can affect the inheritance of the property. If the ownership was on a ‘tenants in common’ basis, the partners share will be dealt with under the terms stated in the will; if both partners are ‘joint tenants’ then you will acquire automatic ownership of the whole property.
In the event of a breakup, property, children finances and assets can become very complicated. We would advise cohabiting couples to draw up a cohabitation agreement – this is a legal document that states the position of both parties when it comes to matters of finances and ownership. This is particularly important for unmarried couples who co-own a property, and where one partner contributes to the mortgage of a property that the other partner owns – as previously discussed. The agreement can cover as much or as little as the couple wish and while it may not be entirely legally enforceable, it makes disputes less likely to occur and easier to resolve.
Thank you to Taylor Rose TTKW for providing this informative guest post!