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Co-habiting is fastest growing family type

Co-habiting is the fastest growing family type in the UK, with an estimated 3.3 million families now opting to live this way. What legal protection is there though in the event of separation?

How the law stands

When married couples separate the law provides for courts to divide assets in a fair manner having regard to a number of factors including the needs of the parties and children, length of the marriage and age. However, when un-married couples separate there are no such laws in place. They have no legal obligation to each other even where there are children. Property matters are determined only by property law and not necessarily by what is fair and reasonable. Even in a long relationship where one party has contributed toward household outgoings, if the family home is held in the other party’s sole name, there may be no right to an interest in the property.

There is a common misunderstanding that there is a concept of “Common Law Marriage” – people think this gives them some protection but this is not the case and no such concept exists.

There are a number of ways to ensure that both parties are protected when continuing to co-habit:

Cohabitation agreement – this clearly sets out the parties’ intentions with regard to finances, property and even child care arrangements. It can cover a number of areas and help regulate what will happen in the event of a separation.
Will – If one partner dies there is no automatic right to inheritance unless provision has been made in a Will. Even if one partner has lived in the home for a number of years, they could lose the home if not named in the Will or on the title deeds.
Declaration of Trust – where parties purchase a home together but not contributing in equal shares, this can ensure that each party receives a fair proportion of what they have contributed should the property be sold in the future.
Pension – there is no automatic entitlement to the pension of a partner. In the event of death there will only be an entitlement to any benefits if the scheme provides for this and the appropriate nomination has been made.

Resolution will be promoting co-habitation awareness from 27 November in order to highlight the legal differences between married and un-married separating couples.

There are many things to consider for cohabitees and Atherton Godfrey can advise in relation to your specific circumstances. Please contact us on 01302 320621 or email