The myth of ‘Common Law’ marriage
As the law stands, unmarried couples only have a limited capacity to make claims against each other. If you are not married to your partner you do not have an automatic right to inherit their estate. A parent can claim maintenance for the children of the relationship, but not for themselves. Alternatively, they may have a claim to a proportion of the house in the name of their partner, but only by using antiquated trust laws that were not specifically designed for claims by cohabitees. Neither course of action is designed specifically to deal with these issues as they arise between unmarried couples, and they are cumbersome and expensive tools to use. As an unmarried partner you neither have nor gain any rights purely by virtue of living with your loved one.
One possible option to guard against any separation or future dispute is a Cohabitation Agreement. Paradigm Family Law can offer couples who are planning to or are moving in together a package of measures designed to insure against the unhappy possibility of the relationship coming to an end.
People buy car insurance without expecting to crash, why not relationship insurance? We believe that couples should be prepared for moving in together in the same way that drivers are prepared for their car being stolen or being in an accident.
Paradigm Family Law can prepare a document that registers your intentions as to how property and belongings are to be owned between you, and what would happen if you were to separate. By setting out who owns what, as well as what contributions you each plan to make towards the rent or mortgage repayments, it should help you to divide your possessions if your relationship does founder.
Points to consider
- Who is to live at the property?
- How are the purchase price, costs and disbursements being financed?
- Who is paying what and in what proportions do they want to hold the property?
- Is any 3rd party contributing e.g. parent or parents and do they expect to be repaid?
- In whose name or names is the Title to be registered?
- Decide whether to hold the property as joint tenants or tenants in common?
- If in joint names, how do you want to set out the respective financial contributions on the title deeds?
A new law?
The Cohabitation Rights Bill has just passed through to Committee stage, having received its second reading in the House of Lords. If passed into law, it aims to give cohabiting couples much better legal protection. It needs to if the laws in this country are to keep pace with the reality of modern relationships. In Britain nearly 3 million households are cohabiting. Until the laws change, those couples have to rely on either old property laws not designed to provide proper relief, or actively protect themselves with contracts and property ownership provisions as outlined above.
Whether the law on cohabitation should go as far as to offer the same protection to cohabitees who split up as those who are married and divorce is a hot topic. It becomes even more important where the couple have children, and perhaps one has not worked in favour of looking after the children. Only on divorce can maintenance be claimed by a spouse. The proposals in the Bill do not go far enough in may commentators’ eyes.
Seek legal advice
What is very apparent for all cohabiting couples or those about to move in together, is that they need to protect themselves. They should take legal advice not just when the relationship breaks down, but take protective measures when they get together, especially if they are buying a house together. Paradigm Family Law have the expertise and experience to help draw up the necessary agreements and provide couples with the protection they need in the absence of the laws of the land catching up with modern life in this country.
If you would like advice on this or any aspect of family law, please do not hesitate to contact us here at Paradigm Family Law on 0845 6020422 or email us at [email protected]