Cohabiting Couples – Do you really know your legal rights?
Are you in a cohabitating relationship but unsure of your legal rights? If so, you may find this article useful
Many people believe there is such thing as a ‘common law marriage’ which gives legal rights to unmarried couples living together. Unfortunately, this is not true.
In 2016 there were 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK and it is the fastest growing family type which has doubled in the last 20 years. Many couples choosing to commit to one and other but for their own reasons decide that marriage isn’t for them.
Cohabitating couples represent 1 in every 5 families in the UK and only 1 in 3 cohabitating couples know there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’. This is not surprising when the phrase ‘Common-law marriage’ is still being banded around today but it is very misleading as it leads people to believe that this gives them legal rights over a period of time when that isn’t the case. One of the most common misconceptions is that because an unmarried couple have lived together for several years and/or have children that they automatically acquire legal rights to any property that they reside in.
This is not in fact true and if you are not named on the title deeds of the property, you do not automatically have any rights to that property.
To help raise awareness of this issue myself and Laura Clapton from Consilia Legal are campaigning to raise awareness and
encourage cohabiting couples to take steps to protect themselves and their families.
I have detailed below some frequently asked questions surrounding the myth of ‘common law marriages’:
My partner owns the family home in his sole name, but I paid for all the home improvements, can I get my money back?
Unfortunately, if you are not named on the title deeds, it is a difficult process to receive your money back if nothing was agreed in writing at the time.
You could have drawn up a declaration of trust at the time the improvements were made, detailing the financial contribution you have both made to the property or later recorded this within a cohabitation agreement. Unfortunately issues like this only crop up when the relationship breaks down and it is a costly legal process to prove that you have a legal right to the equity in the property. By clearly documenting your intentions at the time the contribution was made it would limit any difficulties in the future.
Many people are concerned that if they request a legal document to be drawn up, this means you do not trust the other person which we understand can be a difficult conversation. However, if you are not named on the title deeds may be in a vulnerable position and this is why it is important to protect the money that you have put into the property.
I live in my partners property and have done so for 15 years and I gave up my job to raise our children. Will I be entitled to a share of the property and maintenance?
If you are not married, you cannot claim maintenance in your own right unlike in divorce proceedings. Depending on your former partner’s income, you would be entitled to claim maintenance for your children if they lived with you more than 50% of the time. It is always best to try agree the level of maintenance directly between you but if this is not possible you can seek assistance from the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). You may also be able to apply to the courts for top up or lump sum payments for the children in certain circumstances. In relation to the property you would have to prove that there was a common intention for you to receive a share of the equity in the property for example if you had made a significant financial contribution to the property. Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to remain living in the property with the children, but you would need to speak to a family solicitor who would advise you on your rights to occupy the property.
I am campaigning to change the law so that it gives more legal rights for cohabiting couples, but in the meantime, there are ways that you can protect yourself.
If you are buying a property jointly, ensure that both of your names are detailed on the tile deeds and if you have provided unlike contributions you may decide to own specific shares rather than 50/50;
If it is not possible to be named on the property or you move into your partner’s property make sure that you sign a cohabitation agreement which sets out your intentions in relation to the property, your finances and how you would support the children if you separated.
It would also be advisable to make a will as you will not be your partner’s next of kin in the event of their death.
You may also want to consider what policies you have in place in the event of your partner’s death and independent financial advice should be sought.
Both myself and Laura Clapton are offering a free consultation for unmarried individuals and we would be happy to discuss your current situation and offer advice on how you can protect yourself. You can contact us for an appointment at firstname.lastname@example.org 0113 322 9222
Sarah Manning – Family Solicitor
This is a sponsored blog post from Consilia Legal.