Legal Options for Unmarried Couples

It is important that cohabiting couples are aware of their rights and how to protect themselves. Many mistakenly believe that as a ‘common law’ husband or wife that they have the same legal and financial rights as married couples or those in a civil partnership.


Cohabitants rights differ from that of a married couple (or civil partnership) in that on divorce the latter have a right to a fair share of any assets that they own, and the Court will have discretion to consider the circumstances and history of the relationship to make an order.

No such rights exist for those cohabiting when a relationship breaks down. Protection is only limited to the laws of property or, if there are children, Schedule 1 of the Children Act.



How to Protect yourself if you are in Cohabiting Relationship


Cohabitation Agreements

Also referred to as a ‘living together’ agreement, a cohabitation agreement is a legally binding document entered into between couples who have chosen to live together. It can deal with many other matters including payment of the mortgage, payment of other bills, home improvements and what will happen should the relationship breakdown.

Do note for it to be legal, it will need to be executed as a contract with both parties obtaining independent legal advice before signing to confirm intention to enter into the agreement. It must also be signed and witnessed as a Deed, with clear terms of the agreement and not be undertaken under duress or coercion.

Cohabitation Agreements can also be used between family members and friends living together. They are a practical, cost effective way to ensure both parties are protected, and provide certainty for both parties on what will happen in the event of a break-up.

 

Declaration of Trust

Another option for those with property is to complete a declaration of trust (which confirms the proportions in which two or more individuals own a property) irrespective of how the property is owned at the outset.

This document can record the financial contributions both parties have made towards its purchase, or reflect another agreement between the parties regardless of financial contributions.
Having a Declaration of Trust in place can help avoid disputes if the relationship ends as it informs the courts of their intentions and how they wished their contributions to be considered, saving both time and money.

 

Make a Will

It is also important to make a valid will. If an unmarried cohabitee were to die without leaving a will, under the laws of intestacy (a set of rules about who inherits what you own if you die without a will) their partner would not legally be entitled to inherit anything.




Conclusion

Given the rise in complex legal disputes after cohabiting couples break-up it is important that they are aware of their rights, and how to protect themselves.

If you have any questions relating to the cohabitation agreements, Declaration of Trust documents or wills, do get in touch either by phone on (01234) 711 701 or by completing our online form. As family law specialists, based in Olney between Milton Keynes and Northampton, we are happy to help.

 

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