Living Together Without Marrying - Know Your Rights

Living Together Without Marrying - Know Your Rights

Are you buying a house with your partner? Maybe you have made the decision not to marry, or to save for a wedding once you are on the housing ladder? Have you been living together for many years in a house owned solely in your partner’s name? If any of these apply to you, then this is a must-read article to understand your rights…. Chances are those rights are NOT what you think.

To marry or not to marry?

That is becoming an increasingly common question asked in modern society, 1 in 5 couples in the UK are now cohabiting without being married, It is estimated that there will be 3.8 million cohabiting couples by 2031, and that the marriage rate will drop to 42%; compared with 67.6% in 2015.

It is clear therefore, that more couples than ever are choosing to cohabit, rather than marry, but what is the difference in your rights if you are married or have cohabited for many years?

The Myth of Common Law Marriage

When it comes to Common Law Marriage, let’s get one thing straight – there is no such thing as Common Law Marriage! It is simply a myth that has been believed by a considerable proportion of society for many years. It is estimated that around 46% of Brits believe that a couple who have cohabited for a number of years are protected by the same rights as those who are married. This myth has been cemented in society and I am always concerned to see “common law” given as a relationship status choice on most price comparison sites, which further strengthens peoples belief in this myth, giving them a false sense of security. The truth is, whether you have lived with your partner for 3 months or 30 years, your rights on separation are exactly the same.

Know Your Rights – “It’s just a piece of paper”

When planning my own wedding recently, alongside studying for my final law exams, I was shocked to see so many posts in wedding related social media groups saying “it’s just a piece of paper” when talking about the decision whether or not to marry; my comment in response was always “NO IT’S NOT, MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GETTING INTO!” and suffice to say my now husband found it highly unromantic of me when I explained the “contract of marriage” we were signing up to, to ensure that he knew what he was getting into – that’s what you get marrying a family lawyer I’m afraid!

So, what is the difference between marriage and long-term cohabitation? The simple answer would be to say that as soon as a couple marry, they are protected by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which essentially sees all of their assets pooled together in the “marital pot” and divided on divorce. In comparison a couple who cohabit keep any assets which are in their sole name to themselves and on separation will be able to take anything they own with them, with no obligation in law to provide financially for the other. As a result, if you purchased a house together but it is held in your partner’s sole name, (maybe because you had a bad credit score at the time it was purchased), on separation, you may have to make a claim under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996; and prove that there was an intention when the property was purchased for you to have a share in the property, and / or that you made a financial contribution to the property, and /   or that you made a direct financial contribution towards the purchase price. Furthermore, you do not have the protection afforded to married couples if one of you were to die during the relationship, meaning that your partner’s property would not automatically pass to you, and your home could potentially pass to your partner’s family members, leaving you without a home.

How to Ensure You Are Protected

Although none of us want to think about what would happen if we were to separate from our partner at the happy stage of purchasing a home together, it would be wise to give this some thought. The best way to ensure you are protected, if you are not going to hold a property jointly and equally in both names at the time of purchase, is to sign a declaration of trust or a cohabitation agreement, depending upon your specific circumstances. In the event that you are already at the stage of separating from your partner and you are worried about how the property would be divided you can look to enter into a separation agreement. If you have already separated and there is a disagreement about how your home is to be dealt, you may need to consider making a claim for either yourself or your children under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 or Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989.

Our friendly, approachable specialists can help advise you of your options whatever your circumstances. Please call Helen Lennon on 0800 542 4245.

 0800 542 4245