The practicalities of a possible future breakup isn’t exactly the most romantic topic of conversation in the world, so it’s understandable that couples often avoid these discussions. The trouble is, if they don’t address this issue, couples can face nasty surprises further down the line. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion out there concerning the rights that unmarried couples have when they separate, and sometimes people are left in much worse situations than they ever expected. If you and your partner aren’t planning to walk down the aisle and you want to know where you stand in the eyes of the law, keep reading.
A common misconception
As legal specialists the Law House point out, it’s a common misconception that by living together for a period of time, couples automatically achieve the status of a ‘common law marriage’, meaning they have an equal share in all assets. In fact, common law marriage doesn’t exist. Whether you cohabit with your partner for three or 30 years, your position does not change and it’s not uncommon for one party to leave the relationship with nothing.
Unlike their equivalents in wedlock, unmarried partners who stay at home to run the household or look after children can’t make any claims in their own right for property, pensions or maintenance following a breakup.
In terms of capital, each partner can keep whatever assets are in their name, and this applies to property as well as everything else. Unless the home is owned jointly, the partner with their name on the deeds and who has paid the mortgage will keep the property. The only exception to this is if the other party can establish that there was a common intention that they should have an interest in the home, but this can be very different to prove. The situation does change in the event of a death. If one partner passes away without making provision for the other in their will, the survivor can make a claim against the estate and may be able to get the house they lived in together. There are none of the inheritance tax benefits that come with marriage though.
When it comes to children, the natural mother automatically has parental responsibility. However, unmarried fathers only have automatic parental responsibility if their children were born after 1 December 2003 and they are named on the birth certificate.
The benefits of a Living Together Agreement
Given these legal uncertainties, if you’re living with your partner and you’re not married, it’s wise to make a Living Together Agreement. Solicitors are on hand to guide you through the process, and it’s well worth making the effort. These arrangements, which are also sometimes called Cohabitation Agreements, are a record of what you and your other half have agreed about how you will own and share things. The documents are an effective way to protect both you and your partner in the event that you do separate.
The important thing is to make sure that you’re in the know when it comes to your rights. Don’t just rely on rumours and assumptions. By getting the facts, you can ensure that if your relationship does come to an end, you won’t have to face any unwelcome financial surprises.