If you’re not married and you live with your partner, you might assume you are protected by ‘common law’. However, there is currently no such thing.
You probably didn’t enter the relationship expecting to break up later, but it’s wise to protect your financial interests at the start (or in the middle) just in case things don’t work out and the relationship comes to an end. Such planning may not be common law, but it is common sense!
The Labour party have said they intend to introduce legislation that would treat co-habiting couples who separate just like married couples who divorce. But first the party has to get elected, and then they need to get the legislation written and approved. So nothing is going to change in a hurry.
Resolution – the community of family justice professionals – supports this proposal, and has recently launched their ‘Vision for family justice’. This includes:
- Calling for cohabitation law to be reformed
- The right to apply for financial remedies if a cohabiting couple separates, such as paying the primary parent to cover childcare costs while they work, or temporary maintenance while they adjust to their new living circumstances
- Couples will be able to opt of of that right if they want to
Note that you don’t automatically get more money out just because you put more in.
Married couples typically get a 50:50 split of assets when they divorce. The needs of any children are prioritised, so the primary carer may get more. This is covered by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (Section 25 factors).
Cohabiting couples who separate may be covered by the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, and Schedule 1 of the Children’s Act 1999.
If you bought a property together, it might be set up as Joint Tenants which means you own half each, even if one of you contributed more to the purchase price in the first place.
If you are the partner who paid less to buy the property, when you separate, you may be able to reclaim your share of what you contributed towards bills or refurbishments, but may not be entitled to as much equity from the property itself. Ownership depends what’s written in the Trust Deed or at the Land Registry – so it’s important to get this right when you buy the property in the first place.
You no doubt realise it can be time-consuming and costly to sort all this out when you’re going through the distressing process of a separation.
So the best thing to do is to have a Cohabitation or ‘Live With’ agreement when you move in together. Both partners should take independent legal advice so they can reach a fair and reasonable agreement at this stage. It’s important to note these agreements are not legally binding, but a Court will take them into account.
It may not sound romantic, but if you’re moving in together (or you already live together) especially if you already have or intend to have children, please talk to us to see what could be done. Then you can relax, knowing that you and any children are protected if things go wrong.
For more information, please call us on 01938 552545 to speak to our family specialists: Meinir Wyn Jones or Mari Wyn Jones.