28 November 2017
National Cohabitation Week highlights unprotected rights of unmarried couples
Many couples do not wish to marry, but still regard themselves as fully committed to their partner however what the majority of them do not know is that they do not have the same rights or responsibilities as married couples or those in civil partnerships.
National Cohabitation Week (27 November to 1 December) aims to highlight this, the difficulties couples who choose to live together rather than get married could face, and the steps that can and should be taken to prevent that.
The concept of a common-law marriage has no legal validity in England and Wales, and so it is possible to walk away from a relationship even after 20 to 30 years together and even where there are children, with nothing and no entitlement to financial support. This could occur where the property in which a couple live is in one person's name and the other cannot show that the mutual intention was that he/ she should have an interest, or it could take protracted, complicated and expensive legal proceedings to show that.
So if you are buying a property discuss beforehand how that property is to be owned and what your respective interests will be- perhaps to reflect what you each contribute towards the purchase cost. The title document or a Declaration of Trust can record this, and the latter could be reviewed and the interests changed if , for example , someone pays off a mortgage or alone funds the cost of a significant extension from say an inheritance from a beloved relative.
You could also consider a Cohabitation Agreement which could record your intentions about the ownership of property but also deal with other matters to include child care and who pays what bills, as well as how housework or other chores are to be shared.
Having discussions about such matters may not be considered romantic but this week highlights the vulnerability of a former partner where a property, other assets and savings are in one person's name. It may not be romantic but surely such discussions are better had when 'loved up' (and could strengthen your relationship) rather than having a bitter dispute if things go wrong .
Consideration should also be had to what should happen if one partner dies. Cohabiting partners have no automatic right to inherit, although a surviving partner can make a claim for reasonable financial provision if the couple have lived together for 2 years immediately before a person's death or if the survivor can show that he/ she was wholly or partially maintained by the deceased.
But until there is statutory reform (perhaps we adopt a system akin to that in Scotland) the uncertainty can be removed about the future by having frank discussions and considering how property is to be owned; a Cohabitation Agreement and Will. These arrangements are not just for the wealthy, and a reasonable cost now could avoid tens of thousands in potential legal costs.