Stresses and strains from the last 12 months have had their effects on every relationship but where do you stand legally if you’re part of a cohabiting couple and things aren’t going well? As more and more people choose to live together rather than marry we thought it would be a good idea to talk to Sarah Spence, Partner at Dodds Solicitors who specialises in advising cohabiting couples about some of the questions and issues, which frequently crop up.
Is it true that if I live with my partner for 2 years I will be in a common law marriage and entitled to half of their assets?
Unfortunately, this is not the case. A lot of people will refer to a common law marriage however, the law does not recognise the term and there are no additional rights, which can be obtained after a certain time of living together.
My partner owns the house where we both live and I have contributed money towards the bills and paid for a new kitchen in the property does that give me any rights over the property?
In certain circumstances you may be able to show that you have an interest in the property but this is a complicated legal area and depends a lot on what the payments were actually used for and what your joint intentions were regarding the property and ownership of it.
I have lived with my partner for 10 years and we have 2 small children and I have given up work to look after the children, if my partner and I separate would my partner have to support me?
Your partner would have to make financial provision for your children and you could apply to the CMS (Child Maintenance Services) to work out what your partner should be paying however, any payments would be for maintenance of the children rather than you and would end when the children reached the age of 18.
My partner has a good final salary pension if we separate can I make a claim against his/her pension?
Although if you had been married and were getting divorced you could make a claim in respect of your husband/wife’s pension if you are cohabiting the pension remains their own property and you could not claim against it.
My partner and I live together in a property, which she/he owns what, happens if my partner passes away suddenly. Would I be entitled to a share in the property?
Sadly, this is not the case even if you have lived together for a number of years. Your partner could make a Will to make sure you receive something on their death but if your partner has not made a Will, then any property your partner owns would be distributed according to the intestacy rules. You might however be able to take a claim against your partner’s estate under the Inheritance and Provision for Family and Dependants Act 1975.
My partner will be moving in with me in the New Year into a property, which is in my sole name, can I do anything to protect my interest in the property?
You could take legal advice and have a Cohabitation or Living Together agreement drawn up. It is like a pre-nuptial agreement but for couples who are living together.
What happens if my Partner and I break up, do I receive my money back when I contributed to the purchase of the house?
This will depend on how the property is owned, if the property was held as “Joint Tenants” this is where if either person passes away the share is transferred to the other. If the property is held like this then the net sale proceeds will be split 50/50. However if the property was held as “Tenants in Common” the net sale proceeds are divided as the amount of shares owned. In these circumstances it is advisable a declaration of trust is created when purchasing a property as a cohabitating couple. This document sets out the terms of how the net sale proceeds are to be divided in case the property is sold and is legally binding by both parties.
Finally we asked Sarah what her top tips are for avoiding difficult situations. Sarah said she would always recommend that cohabiting couples make a Will to ensure that if they should pass away they would have certainty as to what would happen to their assets. She would also recommend having those potentially difficult and not very romantic conversations about who owns what and how any financial contributions are to be treated at an early stage so that everyone knows where they stand.