The last thing on your mind when you start living together is what will happen if you separate. It may not be romantic but it is vital that you understand your legal rights you have before you enter into the maze of complex law relating to cohabitation.
Surely I will be protected as common law husband and wife? It’s a myth! There is no such legal concept. Many find this out when it’s too late: when their relationship breaks down or one party dies.
Do I have to pay/Can I claim maintenance if we split? No. You may have lived together for many years and given up careers to bring up children, but the present law does not provide for any ongoing maintenance.
What about maintenance for our children? If you cannot agree the level of maintenance for your children then the Child Maintenance Service will calculate it. There could also be additional claims that could be made depending on your financial position for a ‘top up’ on maintenance or for a lump sum to provide capital for a home for those children whilst they are in full time education.
What about the house? If your house is owned in one name then beware. There is no automatic right for the non-owning party to stay in the house once the relationship breaks down. If you intend that the non-owning party should have an interest in the house that should be in writing at the outset. Without documentary evidence whether or not the non-owning party has an interest turns on complex Trust Law.
If the house is owned in both your names then it is presumed that the equity in that property is owned 50:50 unless there is written or verbal proof to the contrary. The Court can, in some circumstances, look at how you conducted your financial arrangements during the relationship to determine that agreement. It is an extremely complex, expensive and fluid area of law best avoided by planning at the outset.
What is a ‘Living Together Agreement’ and are they binding? A Cohabitation or Living Together Agreement will not only detail who owns what within your relationship but also how personal savings and jointly-owned possessions will be distributed should the relationship come to an end. You can also agree how much each person will pay towards rent, mortgage and monthly bills. It is binding provided it is properly done. Take legal advice to ensure that it has full effect.
What about if one of us dies? There is no automatic right of inheritance unless a property is held as joint tenants and accounts are held in joint names. If you intend that your partner should or should not benefit in the event of your death – make a Will. It could save your estate from inheritance tax and expensive litigation later.
The law is complicated, everyone is different. Always get advice.
Carmelita Ardren is a partner, head of Raworths’ Family Law Unit, a collaborative lawyer and an advanced member of the Law Society Family Law Panel. To contact Raworths telephone 01423 566666 or visit our offices at Eton House, 89 Station Parade,Harrogate, HG1 1HF. Alternatively, email firstname.lastname@example.org.