Many people decide that getting married is not for them and decide to live together in a long-term relationship. Others will see living together as a stepping stone towards marriage. Either way it is important to understand the legal repercussions of cohabitation (living together) – or the lack of repercussions!
Common Law Husband and Wife
The greatest myth in English law is that by living together a couple acquire rights or responsibilities because they are "common law husband and wife". This is not true. No such rights or responsibilities arise from living together or cohabitation – however long a couple live together.
For many people they only realise this when the relationship ends or one of the couple dies. The legal consequences of this can be very different to those that are envisaged by the couple or that would have resulted if a couple had been married or were within a civil partnership.
Property Ownership – Declaration of Trust
It is vital that when a property is bought in joint names consideration is given as to how that property is to be legally owned by the couple. It does not have to be equal shares. If one of the couple is financially contributing more towards the purchase this could be acknowledged and that person given a greater interest or share in the property that would be realised should the relationship come to an end.
A Declaration of Trust is often entered into which sets out the respective shares that the couple have in the property that they buy together. This can easily be added to the documents needed on buying the property but is very important in setting out the ownership formalities in case the relationship does come to an end unexpectedly.
Making Wills is also very important. If one of the couple were to die there is no automatic provision for the other from their estate if they are not married or are in a formal civil partnership.
Getting married or entering a civil partnership results in any Will that you then have becoming invalid and is automatically revoked.
When thinking about living with your partner it is important to consider the financial repercussions of this and what you both would want to happen if one of you died or the relationship ended. A Cohabitation Agreement can be entered into which is a contract setting out your respective rights and responsibilities to the other because without this there will be no automatic ones.
If the Relationship Ends
It is important that you try to reach agreement with your partner if your relationship comes to an end especially where you have children. No "divorce" is necessary but financial repercussions may have to be considered. It is better to prepare in advance and to have a Cohabitation Agreement, Wills and (if buying a property) a Declaration of Trust setting out what you have agreed to be the legal repercussions of your relationship ending. When you actually need these documents it may be too late to do anything retrospectively.
To find out more or discuss your individual requirements in further detail, our dedicated Family Law solicitors will be delighted to help. Contact us today on 01603 693500 or email us using the 'Make an enquiry' form. Appointments available at our Norwich, North Walsham and Sheringham offices.