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Increasingly these days many couples choose to live together and have children outside of marriage.  Whereas the law in England and Wales provides married couples with the protection of the umbrella of equality so that both parties needs and entitlements are looked at and dealt with should the parties separate or divorce, the law which applies to unmarried couples is complicated and confusing and can result in some very unfair outcomes on a relationship breakdown.

Advice for if you are considering cohabitation

It is sensible for parties who are or are about to live together to avoid or minimise the difficulties which arise when a relationship breaks down.  In addition to properly recording the shares in which their home is owned, making a Will to clearly set out who should inherit what and nominating who shall receive benefits under a policy or pension in the event of a death, it is sensible for the parties to think about the assets and liabilities they have individually and together and then consider entering into a Living Together Agreement, preferably before they start living together.

Common law husbands and wives

There are common misconceptions about the effect of living together outside marriage.  Many people believe that living together places a couple in the relationship of so called common law husband or wife, with similar rights and obligations to a husband and wife.  This is not the case, no matter how long the parties have lived together or whether there are children of the relationship or not, unless agreed otherwise.

Who owns what will largely be determined by who paid for it, unless the parties have agreed otherwise.

Living together agreements

To avoid or at least minimise disputes on a relationship breakdown it is sensible for cohabiting couples to enter into a Living Together Agreement to clearly define ownership of assets and responsibility for liabilities and save a lot of anguish and potentially a great deal of money should the relationship break down and a dispute arise about who is entitled to what.

A Co-habitation Agreement though, is no substitute for properly recording the shares in which property is owned.

Where property is owned jointly it is very important to be clear on which type of joint ownership applies.  A property can be jointly owned as either joint tenants or tenants in common.  With joint tenancy in the event of one of the parties dying, the deceased person’s share automatically passes to the survivor whereas if the property is held as tenants in common, these shares are not linked and each party retains’ control of whatever their share may be, which they can then dispose of by Will or otherwise.

If the parties own a property as joint tenants and wish to convert to a tenancy in common, they can do so simply by serving a Notice of Severance on the other party.

Cohabitation legal advice

If you would like advice on any of the issues discussed in this article or generally concerning co-habitation please contact us for some free initial advice over the phone. Bray & Bray have three main offices across Leicestershire, feel free to phone or pop in to talk to our family law solicitors.

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