While society is happy for us to live as we choose, unfortunately, the law has not yet caught up. My colleagues have been highlighting the lack of legal rights given to unmarried couples all week and as our Cohabitation Awareness campaign draws to a close, I thought I would summarise the main points you need to consider when you live together.
If marriage isn’t on the cards, but you have a verbal agreement about ownership/rights to your shared home or other joint assets, think about drawing up a Cohabitation Agreement.
This record of your intentions relates to the division of capital and possessions in the event of a separation and will hopefully avoid any lengthy and costly court battles. It sets out who owns what and how property, personal belongings, contents and other assets should be divided.
A Cohabitation Agreement can also enable you to clarify how day-to-day finances will be managed, for example, who will pay what towards the mortgage and bills. This should engender a better understanding between you and your partner and negate any ‘he said, she said’ if you split up.
It is a good idea to each make a will, demonstrating your intention to provide for the other in the event one of you dies. If you don’t make your wishes official, your estate will be subject to strict inheritance rules, which currently do not recognise cohabiting partners. Remember, there is no such thing as ‘common law’ man and wife!
Our wills and probate experts would also recommend giving thought to trusts. They may be necessary if you want to provide financially for your partner or any dependent children and ensure they can remain living in the family home if it is in your sole name.
Speaking of children, the vast majority of cohabitees have them. A parenting plan may be useful to agree their future care, again, in the event of a separation. This can cover essentials, such as where they will live and how much contact they have with your partner, as well as the practical issues of schooling, pocket money and parenting styles.
We all agree a change in the law is long overdue and unmarried couples should be given the recognition they deserve. Until then, don’t cohabit complacently. At the very least, make sure you understand the legal limitations your choices bring and if possible, take proactive steps to protect yourself.
To find out more about the rights of unmarried couples, contact our family law department on (0114) 218 4000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.