Are you at a financial risk due to the ‘common-law marriage’ myth?

22/12/2017

Are you in a cohabiting relationship? If so, this is a must read for dos and don’ts.

What is cohabitation?

Cohabitation is where couples live together but are not married. A survey conducted by ComRes found that nearly 37% of British adults believe that couples who have lived together for more than two years can benefit from “common law marriage”. The Office for National Statistics in November 2017 publicised statistics showing that cohabiting unmarried couples is the second largest family type in the UK with nearly 3.3 million families choosing to have this sort of family set up. However, do not be misled by the statistics. Contrary to popular belief, the concept of “common-law marriage” does not exist in law in England and Wales.

Only those people who are married or in civil partnerships can rely on the Matrimonial Causes Act for settling finances when they divorce or dissolve their civil partnership. Married couples are entitled to apply to the Courts to divide property and finances in a way that is just and fair to both parties. Unfortunately, if you and your partner are not married or in a civil partnership, even if you have children, neither of you have the same rights as married couples.

Protect yourself now

Whilst you are in a happy relationship, and we want that to continue, you and your partner should take the appropriate steps now to protect yourselves should your relationship break down.

Do

1. Consider whether you need to draw up a cohabitation agreement before moving in with your partner. A cohabitation agreement can set out agreements made between you and your partner in relation to finances or other living arrangements;

2. Think about drawing up a Deed of Trust which will make it clear who owns what proportion of the property;

3. Maintain a precise record of what financial contributions, if any, you and your partner have made to the property;

4. Keep your bank accounts separate. This will make it easier to establish who owns what rather than divvying up joint bank accounts;

5. Make a Will to reflect your wishes. If you want your partner to inherit, your Will must provide for this as cohabiting couples do not automatically acquire each other’s assets upon death.

6. On the birth of any child, if you are the father, you should check that you are registered on the birth certificate. Unmarried fathers do not automatically have parental responsibility for their children unless they are recorded as the father on the birth certificate.

7. Make sure you regularly update and consider all of the above whilst cohabiting.

Don’t

1. Agree to your partner registering the property in their sole name if you have made a direct contribution to the purchase price;

2. Agree to make a significant financial contribution i.e. an extension or mortgage payments to the property without agreeing whether it will increase your financial interest in the property;

3. Co-sign or guarantee debts which your partner has incurred, unless you are happy to be jointly responsible for liabilities.
Are you unsure of your legal rights or thinking of cohabiting?

Are you unsure of your legal rights or thinking about cohabiting? Contact our Family Department to book an appointment.
Prabhleen Kundhi 01494 685588 prabhleenkundhi@hinesolicitors.com

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