The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics and the BBC show that cohabiting households in the UK have more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017.
Many couples presume that should the relationship break down, the concept of ‘common law marriage’ will step in to create a fair financial result. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. There is no legal principle or framework of ‘common law marriage’.
Looking at these statistics, it’s clear that the current law is out of date and that society has changed.
What does this mean for cohabiting couples?
If you are co-habiting and there is financial dispute when the relationship breaks down, you are left reliant on trust principles. The current law allows you to live with someone for decades, and have children together, but then not take responsibility for the former partner if the relationship breaks down.
When separating there is a risk of your partner attempting to allege they are beneficially entitled to a financial interest in your property on the basis that this was your common intention and they have contributed financially to the property, for example, by paying for home improvements, mortgage repayments, or by paying other expenses to make sure your money is free to make these payments.
What can cohabiting couples do to protect their finances?
You can clarify your intentions by having a living together (cohabitation) agreement drawn up which sets out clearly what you are both contributing, what the financial arrangements are to be during the cohabiting period, and whether or not it is your mutual intention for one person to derive a beneficial interest in the property. By doing this it will limit the risk of expensive litigation when a relationship breaks down.
It’s also important to be aware that the advent of children, or death, could leave you with unexpected results. Should you die, the partner who you live with may be able to make a claim over your estate for provision.
If there are children involved and your partner is their primary carer, there is scope within the Children Act 1989 for your partner to claim the house be preserved as a roof over the children’s heads until they are no longer dependent.
There are many differences between married couples and cohabiting couples so it’s vital to take specialist legal advice before anyone moves in, to make sure that you are financially protected should the relationship break down.
For more information on cohabiting couples, please contact Anita Scorah in our Family Law team on 01625 442123.