Cohabitation: Living together while not married…. what are the risks?
The term cohabitation refers to couples living together without being married. It’s common enough, but … did you know that if you’re living together without being married, you cannot claim the same rights as couples who are married?
Many couples believe that when they’re living as partners even without being married, they are protected as a “common law spouse”. There is, unfortunately, no such thing as a common law spouse or common law marriage. I recently visited a popular comparison website and one of the options to choose in the “marital status” menu was “common law spouse”, so I can see why many people believe they have similar rights to those who are in a marriage. Clearly, even large, well-known, successful companies believe something exists when it does not!
Those simply living with their partner without getting married are putting themselves at risk. There is very little protection for them in the event their relationship breaks down. The lack of protection affects all cohabiting couples, even those who have been together for many years.
Cohabiting couples are not legally recognised as being a couple, and this affects rights for either party to make a claim should the relationship break down. A couple who choose not to marry can go on and have children together and agree that one parent shall give up work to stay at home, whilst the other continues to go out to work. Or a couple agree that one person will pay the mortgage on a property and the other will pay the bills. However, without a formal agreement in place, the Court can not simply order one person to pay the other money in support just because they consider it right they do so.
I see many people who are seeking advice following a breakdown in a relationship where they were not married.
The client may tell me that they have lived with their partner for the past 4 years and have paid all the household bills, while their partner, who owned the house before they became partners, paid the mortgage. Their name is not on the house or the mortgages, so when the relationship later breaks down, the client may want to know what they may be entitled to from the equity in the house.
In some instances, I have to tell them that they are not going to recover anything. This news can come as quite a shock to someone who thought they would be entitled to a share, considering they had been paying the bills every month for the past 4 years.
Sadly, this is a common misunderstanding that only comes to light when the relationship has soured.
Furthermore, if the property is registered in one person’s sole name, the other partner could be expected to move out upon separation. I see many people living back home with their parents as a result. Even in cases where one person has paid towards the mortgage each month after moving into their partner’s home, it is not a given that they will receive a share of the equity to compensate them following the separation.
And what about going to court to argue their case? Bringing a claim to a share of the equity in a property is possible, of course. But there is a risk that the costs ncurred as a result of legal action could exceed the amount that the client could recover. A reputable Family Law Solicitor will always discuss costs and chances of success early in the process.
So, what should you do to protect yourself?
Those who are already cohabiting or are planning to cohabit should consider appointing a Family Law Solicitor to draw up a Cohabitation Agreement that can set out their plans and intentions relating to financial outgoings, plans for any property and how any children will be provided for in the event of a separation. It would be a bespoke agreement tailored to the needs of the client and their partner and would cover whatever they agreed on, even down to the care of the family dog in the event of a separation.
It is also very important for people to understand the importance of having a Will in place and any existing Will reviewed.
Should you wish to discuss the issues in this article further, please contact Family Law Solicitor, Naomi Evans by calling 01908 082442 or complete the contact form.