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Cohabiting Couple’s Rights

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Over 3 million UK couples currently cohabit without getting married or entering civil partnerships. Unfortunately, the law has so far failed to catch up with 21st Century life and cohabiting couples’ rights are still limited at best.

Cohabiting Couple’s Rights

Many couples choose to cohabit under the misguided presumption that the terms of ‘common-law marriage’ will protect their interests. Unfortunately, ‘common-law marriage’ simply does not exist. For couples in England and Wales, this means cohabiting partners do not have:

  • Automatic rights to their partner’s property in the event of said partner’s death.
  • Automatic rights to inherit their partner’s estate unless a will is in place, even if the couple have children together.
  • None of the tax reliefs/exemptions enjoyed by spouses or civil partners. This includes pensions.
  • There is a little help available under English & Welsh law, but this help is somewhat restricted:
  • Financial provision for the children (under the age of 18) of cohabitants is provided by Schedule 1 of the 1989 Children Act.
  • If the couple jointly owns a Land Registry registered property, both partners are entitled to their share. If, however, one partner is reluctant to put the property up for sale, the other partner may have to get a court order for it to be sold.
  • If one of the partners has made a significant contribution to the home (i.e. renovations or the mortgage), establishing a claim may be possible.
  • If a partner can prove financial dependence on the other partner during the relationship, making a claim under the 1975 Provision for Family & Dependants Act may be possible.

The UK’s Cohabitation Rights Bill currently moving through parliament will, if passed, offer long-term cohabitants across the UK some basic protection. Unfortunately, concerns that passing it may undermine the institutions of marriage/civil partnership mean there is some opposition to this bill. In the meantime, you face the following risks:

  • If your name is not on a rental agreement or property deed, you are not automatically entitled to stay in your home. You may be asked to leave your home and left with nothing even if you have put money into it by, for example, helping with a mortgage or deposit, paying bills, etc.
  • If you had children together, one of you would be obligated to support the children, but not to support the other partner. This could make supporting their family difficult for the latter.

How to Protect Yourself

If it is not an option to get married or enter into a civil partnership, there are still a few precautions you can take to protect yourself, including making a:

Cohabitation Agreement – Setting out your agreed intentions for matters like arrangements for children, property and finances in case you separate, a cohabitation agreement may cover anything from how to support a partner who gave up a career to care for children to who gets your pet.

Declaration of Trust – Setting out how and in what shares you wish to own a property, a declaration of trust can also cover your intentions in the event of separation. If you purchase a property together but do not contribute equal shares, it can, for example, ensure each partner gets a fair portion of what they have put into the property back. Provision of a loan to cover the deposit by one of you may, for instance, be recorded to ensure they get the money back if you split up and sell the property.

Will – Unless it is spelled out within a will, you will not be automatically entitled to inherit their share of possessions/property if your partner dies. Even if you have cohabited in a joint property for decades, without your name on the property’s deed or being named as the beneficiary within a will, you could lose your home and any rights to the proceeds of a sale thereof.

If you would like more detailed information on your rights as a cohabiting couple and/or need legal advice concerning your best options in the event of something unforeseen happening, please do not hesitate to contact us on 020 8974 7490 or info@roselegal.co.uk to arrange an initial consultation to discuss the best way forward for you and we will provide you with further and specific advice tailored to your circumstances.
Our experienced and understanding team are here to help you. We will work with you to ensure the best possible outcome.

 

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