Unmarried but Living Together as a Cohabiting Couple: Legal Advice from Jefferies

Posted on November 26, 2019
Resolution Awareness Week image

Supporting Resolution Awareness Week 2019

Taking place between 25th to 29th November 2019, Resolution’s Awareness Week endeavours to raise awareness of the ‘common law myth’ – the mistaken idea that unmarried couples living together are entitled to the same rights as married couples. The overall aim of this campaign calls for law reform that will ultimately grant more rights to unmarried couples.

At Jefferies, we are here for all couples, no matter which stage their relationship is at. Here, our team advises on the law as it stands for unmarried couples living together, and how everyone can protect themselves in the long-term.

What is the legal difference between married and unmarried couples?

Contrary to popular belief, unmarried couples that live together are seen very differently to married couples in the eyes of the law. There is no current law that governs unmarried couples in the event of a separation.

In contrast to married couples, unmarried couples actually have very little legal protection when it comes to separating and dealing with the tedious task of dividing the ‘family assets’. Although, married couples are able to turn to specific guidelines set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act in a divorce, unmarried couples do not have such guidelines to follow when going their own ways. This can result in little legal protection when things go wrong, leaving one partner at an unexpected loose end. 

What is the current law for cohabiting couples?

Under current cohabitation law, it’s possible to live happily unmarried with someone for many years and build a family together, however one partner can still simply walk away without any legal obligations to their former partner.

Sadly, in circumstances where couples decide to separate, this can often result in disputes between parties revolving around property, finances and children. In many cases this ends in a ‘winner takes it all’ scenario, leaving one partner with the ‘losing hand’ when it comes to dividing assets, especially in cases where all the assets are owned by one partner. Our Family Solicitors understand how this may leave you feeling vulnerable and uncertain about what your future may hold.

Why should I protect myself in an unmarried relationship?

Protecting your rights and assets is critical and it is not only in the best interest of yourself, but your partner and your loved ones too. It will protect you in the unforeseen moments such as a separation, and in more extreme circumstances, such as an unexpected death.

We know that many relationships are built on trust and you may not be sure how to bring this up with your partner, however it can be a gesture of love to ensure you are both protected, as well as any children involved.

Whether you’re considering moving in with your partner, or are already living together, there are still several options in place, such as entering into what’s called as cohabitation agreement, to avoid the added acrimony that may come with a separation. We know that when dealing with the emotional hardship of a break up, the last thing you want to be dealing with is deciding ‘who will have what’, so rather than waiting for ‘hindsight’ to kick in, why not take the sensible approach and plan ahead.   However, as every scenario is different for each couples,   we recommend the best foot forward is to consult with a Solicitor to get the best tailored advice for you.

What if we are renting or buying a property as an unmarried couple?

If you are simply renting a property together, the best thing you can do is make sure you are joint tenants. However, if you are buying a property together, you should ensure both of your names are on the deeds, so you’ll both have equal shares in the property in the unexpected event of a separation.

You may even want to consider getting advice about entering into a trust deed, when purchasing a Property in unequal shares. As acommon scenario is for one partner to contribute a larger amount of money when purchasing the Property, or alternatively, contribute large sums of money to renovate or improve the state of the Property, which may affect the ownership of a Property. Other things that can affect the ownership are how much money was contributed towards the payment of the mortgage and bills.. . However, without any signed name on the deed or a declaration of trust, you may find yourself entering into lengthy negotiations or in the worst case scenario a Court battle  to get this money back or have any right to the property.

Our Conveyancing Department can advise and assist you with any property arrangements and exploring different ways of living in a home as a couple. Whether it’s that first step of moving into a home or you’ve already been settled a while, we can advise you on your next steps.

What can we do to protect my finances and family as an unmarried couple?

At Jefferies, one way we commonly help unmarried couples to protect them is by entering into a Cohabitation Agreement – otherwise known as a ‘living together agreement’. This is an agreement reached between both parties who have chosen to live together and want to protect their assets in case something goes wrong, without the need to ‘tie the knot’. This can set out your intentions around property, finances, and how you would support children if you split up.

Another common scenario is for one partner to stay home and look after the children, while the other goes to work and pays the bills. However, without any Cohabitation Agreement in place, it is easy for the ‘breadwinner’ to leave without any financial commitment to the partner or the children. They simply have no legal obligations to their common law partners. Unmarried partners cannot claim financial support for themselves like a divorcing spouse is able to, so the only support they can apply for will be for the children, albeit simple child maintenance or alternatively financial provision through the Court’s under the Children Act 1989. Consideration will however need to be given to what will happen if there are no dependent children involved. What financial provision will you be able to claim then?.

If you need help to put together a Cohabitation Agreement or need help applying for financial support for your children, get in touch with our Family Law team for help.

Do I have any legal rights as an unmarried couple in the event of a fatal accident or death?

If you’re in a long-term unmarried relationship with your partner, you are in a vulnerable position without any legal documentation  to protect yourself in those life-altering moments, such as an accident or death. We strongly advise you get Wills and LPA documents planned, signed and assigned for that extra peace of mind and security.  Unfortunately, without being named on the title deeds for a property or in a Will, if your partner died you would have no automatic entitlement to shares in your partner’s estate. It also means that your financial situation is always at risk. If you need more guidance, send your enquiry to our Wills, Probate and LPA Department without delay. 

Jefferies are there for the expected and unexpected

We hope you found our advice helpful, but if you do have any more questions please feel free to contact us. Whether you’re planning a future with your partner, or are unsure of your rights, our friendly team can help advise you at any step.

If you’re planning to marry or enter into a civil partnership, congratulations! We also help engaged couples protect their interests by advising them to enter into prenuptial agreements, or can help married couples with postnuptial agreements. Read our advice on prenuptial agreements for more information here.

Your privacy matters to us. Contact Team Jefferies today on 01702 332 311 or send us your enquiry directly.

We wish Resolution the very best with their Awareness Week campaign!

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