Many people require legal advice either at the start of their relationship. Our specialist family lawyers are ranked Tier 1 by Legal 500 and includes Resolution Accredited Specialists and members of the Law Society’s Family Panel. The team will advise you in relation to a cohabitation agreement and/or a declaration of trust relating to a property to ensure your rights are protected.
Many people are unaware that cohabitees do not have the same legal rights as married couples or civil partners; this is the case however long the relationship has lasted, or whether there are children.
A cohabitation agreement and/or a declaration of trust can be an invaluable way of setting out what should happen in the event of separation and can help you avoid a long and expensive court battle over what your intentions were.
A declaration of trust can set out in what shares a property is to be owned. A cohabitation agreement will deal with a property, but also provide for such things as how the bills will be shared and ownership of contents and personal possessions.
In the event of a separation, our expert family lawyers will advise you upon whether you have any potential claims regarding a property or on behalf of a child or children, and help you to attempt to reach an amicable agreement with your ex-partner.
Cohabitation – know your rights
Many people today consider marriage or civil partnership to be unnecessary, but still wish to commit to a long-term relationship. When that relationship ends, many are shocked to discover that their rights are limited. There is no such thing as a ‘common-law’ husband or wife, and there is no length of cohabitation that will change this.
There is no uniform set of laws that applies to cohabiting couples and whilst it may seem unromantic to do so, there are positive steps that can be taken to protect yourself in the event that your relationship breaks down.
Below is a list of important points regarding your cohabitation rights.
If you jointly purchase a property with your partner, there is an assumption of equal ownership, unless you sign a trust deed which clearly sets out your respective shares in the property, irrespective of each parties’ financial contribution to the purchase price. If one party seeks to dispute this assumption, the burden of proof in doing so will rest with that person.
Unless it is your intention that your property is to be jointly owned irrespective of the amount of money each of you puts into the property, whether it be upon purchase or through mortgage payments or other contributions, you should clearly set out your intentions in writing on purchase of the property.
If you already own a property and have not addressed this, you can still do so by entering into a trust deed now. Our family lawyers have produced many trust deeds for clients across Essex, London and further afield.
Your family home may have been owned solely by one of you when you began cohabiting, in which case the non-owning partner does not automatically acquire any rights in the property and would only do so in limited circumstances. A common misconception is that paying a share of the utility bills and other household expenses (excluding the mortgage) will automatically acquire the non-owning partner an interest in the property. It will not.
If you are concerned as to your rights and obligations, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible and you might consider entering into a cohabitation agreement with your partner so that you are both clear on exactly where you stand. Like a prenuptial agreement, this is not strictly binding, but if the agreement is fair and you have both had the benefit of legal advice, it is likely to be upheld by the courts.
If you do separate, it is important to resolve any issue regarding the property as soon as possible. As the law presently stands, the passage of time will not necessarily affect your rights to a share of the property.
If you are not married and your children were born before 1 December 2003, only the mother will have parental responsibility (PR) for them, unless the father has been granted PR by the court or by the mother in a formal agreement that has been registered with the court. For children born on or after 1 December 2003, the father will also have PR automatically as long as he is named on the child’s birth certificate.
If you separate, this will have a profound effect on your children’s lives and working together to ensure that arrangements are quickly put in place for both of you to spend time with the children will be of a positive benefit to both yourselves and your children.
If you are not married, you will not be able to seek monthly maintenance payments from your former partner for yourself.
You can, however, seek maintenance for the benefit of your child or children. If this cannot be agreed, you will need to approach the Child Maintenance Service. However, if you are able to agree on the level of payments with your ex-partner, this can be recorded in a ‘family-based arrangement’.
In addition, it may be possible for you to seek a capital payment from your partner if this is for the direct benefit of a child of your relationship. This might be to provide a home or meet some other form of capital expenditure.
Unless you are married to your partner, they will not be a beneficiary of your estate unless he or she is specifically named in your Will. If you are in a long-term relationship but do not plan to marry, you should prepare a Will to ensure that your loved ones are cared for in the event you were to unexpectedly pass away. If you do intend to marry, you should be aware that any existing Will becomes void on your marriage unless it specifically states that it should be made in anticipation of your forthcoming marriage.
If you are not married, upon your death your partner will not be entitled to take any gift free of inheritance tax.
If you are not married, you will not be entitled to a spouse’s pension upon death. You should check the rules of your pension scheme to see if your partner is entitled to receive a pension upon your death and, if so, what forms must be completed to give effect to such nomination.
Our family solicitors can offer you expert legal advice on the above, cohabitation agreements in general and other areas of law in order to help you plan for your future, whatever the stage of your relationship.
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