What are your rights as a co-habiting couple?
Our divorce lawyer, Zahra Pabani
, discusses the potential pitfalls that co-habiting couples face and what they need to be aware of if tying the knot is not on the radar. From sharing property, to cohabitation agreements, here’s what you need to know…
Deciding not to get married is becoming a popular trend among couples, even for people who have children. Many people think that just because you have children together, share a home and finances, that you have some form of legal protection should things go wrong. In reality, unmarried couples have very few rights compared to those that are married or in civil partnerships.
There is no doubt that getting married isn’t for everyone, but protecting yourself should be a high priority if no ‘legally binding’ commitment is made. It is common for couples to get carried away in the moment and not consider how they would fare if the relationship broke down or if something happened to either party. Although not the most romantic of prospects, some element of wealth protection should be considered if you’re considering co-habiting, even just for peace of mind.
When couples want to move in together, often one party will move into the other’s home and this can make that individual financially vulnerable. If you split up, the home owner is able to ask you to leave, without any compensation or warning, regardless of the length of time you have lived there.
However, if you have children together, some claim on the property can be made. The Courts will consider the situation of both parties and what is in the child’s best interest, meaning that in some scenarios property can be reallocated to the other party. A property could then effectively be in the other person’s name until the child is no longer classed as a minor. For example, if the homeowner has multiple properties, the other party could move into one until the child is 18 or leaves full-time education. However, from this point onwards, the property has to be returned to the owner.
Additionally, individuals can, in some instances, claim a stake of the property by proving that they have a ‘beneficial interest’. This means that they have to show that they have made some contribution to the property, for example by contributing to the mortgage, or carrying out significant work on the property. However, in order to bring this kind of claim, evidence must be provided.
To avoid this, a cohabitation agreement can be formed to provide greater protection. This could include areas such as, who owns the property at the point of which the agreement is made, as well as if anyone owes anything. You can draw up a financial arrangement to ensure transparency while living together and how property, assets and financials can be divvied up in the event of a split.
A cohabitation agreement can therefore prevent a partner from making a claim on a property that they did not contribute to, and conversely it can prevent the homeowner from asking them to leave the property with nothing or without notice.
There is no denying that co-habiting couples are significantly disadvantaged when compared with the rights of married couples or those in civil partnerships. However, until the Government reforms co-habitation law, couples should make provisions to protect themselves before they move in with their significant other.