Cohabiting: know your rights
How to protect yourself financially in case you and your partner split up
By Jill Insley
The website advicenow, which runs a Living Together campaign to make cohabitants more aware of their legal status, points out that there are three things that don’t exist: the Loch Ness monster, cats’ nine lives and common law marriage.
Couples who live together have hardly any rights compared with married couples or civil partners, and most only discover this when their relationship has broken down or their partner has died.
But there are things you can do to protect yourself, provided you are sensible about recognising that you might one day split up, however romantic your relationship is now.
1. Buying a home
Get advice from a solicitor – how you establish ownership of your home can make a big difference to your rights if you split up.
If you own your home as joint tenants, you own it jointly and equally. If you split up and sell it, you will normally get half, no matter how much you contributed to it. If one of you dies, the other will automatically inherit the other half.
If you buy your home as tenants in common, you can own uneven shares in the property, so one partner could own 40% and the other 60%. If one of you dies, that person’s share will go to the beneficiary named in the will.
2. Renting a home
Consider putting both names on the tenancy. If only one is named, that person can evict the other if the couple split up, although reasonable notice should be given. If the named person decides to leave, the remaining partner can ask the landlord to put his or her name on the tenancy, but he doesn’t have to unless ordered by court because you are vulnerable or have children.
3. Draw up a living together agreement
This is the cohabiter’s equivalent of a pre-nup, forming a record of what each party is contributing to the household. The Advice Now website points out that it can help you sort out the day-to-day workings of living together, as well as enabling you to split up with a minimum of squabbling.
Like pre-nups, a court can decide to ignore the agreement, but it will generally uphold it if what you agreed still produces a fair outcome for both of you, neither party was under pressure from the other and you were both honest about your finances when drawing it up.
However, James Thornton, partner with Stowe Family Law in Harrogate, says if you have it drawn up by a solicitor as a formal legal deed and independently witnessed, it will be legally binding just like any other legal contract.
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