It is an unfortunate fact a life that not all relationships last forever. From an emotional perspective, it doesn’t matter whether you are married or not, the end of a long relationship is heart rending for both parties. However, when it comes to resolving the financial issues, whether you are married or not does make a big difference.
What you receive financially from the breakdown of a marriage may be fundamentally different from what you can receive if were living together and not married. Spouses’ financial obligations to each other are much more wide reaching than those of cohabitees. Although there has never been a legal concept of a “common law” husband or wife this is something that still surprises many.
Spouses have potential claims on all capital, businesses and property, regardless of whether they are jointly owned or not. They also have claims for maintenance and against pensions.
Cohabitees may have claims over property but it is not automatic and usually depends on what the legal documents say about how the house is owned. They do not have claims for maintenance or a right to be financially supported by their ex partner on separation. Nor do they have claims over pensions.
This can seem very unfair for cohabitees but the main reason is that cohabitees’ claims are not treated as family based. Instead they are determined according to ordinary principles under property, business or other contract law. There are some special exceptions for cohabitees, particularly if they have children together. Otherwise, the personal relationship between the parties is irrelevant and non family law applies.
Therefore if you are going to buy a property together you need to be clear about how you are going to own that property and give joint instructions to your conveyancer. If one of you is contributing more to the purchase price, it may be reasonable for that person to have a greater share but if the other is paying the mortgage then it may not be. There is no right or wrong approach to ownership. You can agree a percentage share other than 50/50 or you can ringfence an amount of money. The important point is that you need to have thought about it carefully and reached an agreement well before exchange of contracts. Going forward, be aware that just because one of you later paid for the loft conversion or, the extension; or started to pay the mortgage ordinarily will not change the entitlement that you agreed when you bought. So it may be time to look again at ownership.
If you are looking to move in with your partner, that is the time to consider taking some legal advice about your financial relationship. A cohabitation agreement dealing with property, day to day finances, gifts and inheritance may help, so you both know what to expect in the event of a separation. It won’t be for everyone but it could avoid the expense and emotional heartache of a lengthy legal dispute down the line.