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Cohabitation and property rights

Soaring house prices have meant that more unmarried couples than ever before are looking to own a property. There is a widely believed myth that couples who live together enjoy the legal protections of so-called “common law marriage”. This is untrue: no such status exists in English law, regardless of how long they have lived together. Compared to married couples, cohabitees have far fewer legal rights. This is still the case if the couple have children together.For married couples there is an established process that determines what happens to the property in the event of a divorce, and how it is shared between the couple. For cohabiting partners, the situation is very different. One of the problems is that a home may be purchased in one person’s name, perhaps because they organised the mortgage and pay the larger share of it. If this is the case, the other partner will have to demonstrate that they have an interest in the property – for example, that they have paid into the mortgage or contributed to the deposit. If there is no written agreement that this has been the case, establishing such an interest becomes more difficult. In the worst cases, the court may decide that they have no rights to the home in which they have lived with their partner for many years.To avoid such a situation, it is strongly recommended that couples consult with a lawyer to draw up a contract that clearly sets out ownership rights and responsibility for paying for and maintaining the property. You should also consider what will happen to the property in the event of the death of either partner.
Are there property issues arising from your cohabitation or separation? Talk to us. We are experienced family law specialists and can give you the expert guidance you need. Call 01302 320621 or email

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