The law in England and Wales regarding couples co-habiting together outside of marriage is confusing and its effect very unclear at times. It is largely property based, meaning entitlement to a share of assets is often decided in accordance with who owns and has paid for what. This can lead to some very unfair outcomes on a relationship breakdown.
It is sensible for both parties to think about assets and liabilities they have individually and together. You should be aware of your legal position and how you can protect yourself if the relationship ends or one of you dies.
Once you are living together this does not automatically give you rights to that home, particularly if you move into the property your partner owns or rents. If the property is rented, only the tenant named in the rental agreement has the right to live there. If you are not a named tenant:
- You may need the landlord’s consent to move in.
- The named tenant can ask you to move out at any time.
- You have no right to stay in the property if the named tenant decides to leave.
Similar rules also apply for properties owned by one of you.
However, even if only one of you owns the property the other may have some rights, for example gaining a share of the property if the property was to be sold. This can occur if:
- The owner has agreed in writing that the non-owner is entitled to a share of the property.
- The non-owner contributes financially to the property.
- The non-owner has acted to their disadvantage on the understanding that this entitles them to a share.
- A partner with children applies to the court for the right to continue living in the property to ensure the children’s welfare.
Owning a property in joint names can help to protect the cohabitation rights of both partners. A written cohabitation agreement will help to specify what contributions each partner will make and what share of their home they are each entitled to, thus minimising the risk of future disagreements.
Your finances and possessions
If you and your partner are living together, this does not mean that you have to start supporting each other financially. You have no legal duty to do so. Nor do you automatically share ownership of your possessions, savings and investments. Ownership is unaffected by the fact that you live together as a couple, therefore:
- If you already owned something before you started living together, that is still your own property.
- If you purchase something yourself with your own money, that is still your own property.
- If your partner gave something to you as a gift, you also own it. However it can be difficult to prove unless there is written evidence.
- If you purchase something together, you jointly own it in the shares that you each contributed to the price.
Once more, a written cohabitation agreement can avoid disputes regarding your possessions and finances. You can set out how much each of you will contribute to a joint account and how ownership of any items purchased together will be shared.
Also, any debts that are in joint names means that you are each liable for the debt, so if one of you fails to make the payment it will fall upon the other. The same applies to joint household bills.
When making decisions about children you can only do this if you legally have parental responsibility for them. If the parents are not married then only the mother has parental responsibility automatically. The father only has parental responsibility if:
- He is named on the birth certificate for a child born after December 2003.
- He is registered as the child’s guardian.
- He enters into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother, acquires from the court a parental responsibility order or child arrangements order or if he marries the mother of his child.
If the mother and father separate, consideration often has to be given to issues such as:
- With whom shall the children live with.
- What contact there should be between the child and the other parent.
- What child support should be paid.
Making a Cohabitation Agreement
Having a cohabitation agreement can help to protect you and your partner from potential risks if you separate or if one of you dies. This agreement can help you think through key issues and reduce the probability of disputes or make any disagreements easier to resolve.
In the agreement you can address various financial matters, including what should happen to the house and any assets in joint names.
At Bray & Bray our family lawyers have the specialist knowledge to advise you on whether you should consider having a cohabitation agreement. We can also advise you if you do find yourself in a situation where you and your partner are about to separate or have separated and you believe you may be entitled to an interest in the home you share or shared. Please call us today at any of our offices: