In the UK, there are over 3.5 million couples that are living together but aren’t married. More and more couples are now shunning marriage in favour of cohabitation. And it’s easy to see why: marriage can seem like a huge commitment, filled with responsibility and pressure.
But while cohabitation offers couples freedom and flexibility, it doesn’t give them the same level of protection that marriage does. Should the worst happen, and you and your partner split up, marriage laws mean that assets, such as the family home, money and possessions are split between the two, as fairly as possible.
But what about cohabiting couples?
59%* of unmarried couples believe that there are laws in place to support common law marriage. But, regardless of how long you’ve been with your partner, whether it’s 2 weeks or 22 years, in the UK and Wales, common law marriage doesn’t exist.
So, where does that leave you?
Speak to our Family Law Solicitors to find out where you stand, or keep reading this article to get an overview of what the law can do to protect you as an unmarried partner.
What rights do I have to my partner’s assets if we’re not married?
To put it bluntly, if you’re not married and you and your partner split up, you won’t have many rights to their assets. Even if you’ve lived together for a long time, you have children and have bought a home together, the only way to get the same legal protection over your assets as marriage gives you, is to get married.
These next few sections cover what rights you do have to the main assets that you’re likely to share as a couple, and also what things you can do to protect yourself as much as possible, should the worst-case scenario happen.
What rights do I have to my property if we’re not married?
The biggest asset you’re likely to share when you’re in a committed relationship is your home. You want to make sure that you’re not left without a roof over your head, or out of pocket.
What happens to you and your home after you split will depend on the following:
- Whether you own your home or you’re renting it
- If you own it, who’s name is on the property deeds, or if you own it jointly
- Who’s been paying the mortgage, bills or any other costs associated with the property
What happens if you are joint homeowners?
If you’ve bought the property and own it jointly, so both of your names are on the property ownership papers, you should be able to keep living there and also be entitled to half the value of the property. This is regardless of how much money you contributed to it when you bought it.
What happens if your home is owned by your partner?
If you share your home but it’s in your partner’s name, you won’t have any automatic rights to stay there or receive a share of the sale proceeds.
But you may be able to fight this if you’ve contributed to mortgage payments, bills or any renovation work. Our team of Family Law Solicitors are on hand to help and support you through the process if this is a situation you find yourself in.
If you’d like to find out more about this particular scenario, this article covers it in more detail.
What happens if you’re renting your home?
It works in a similar way if you’re renting your home, unfortunately. If the tenancy agreement is in your partner’s name, then you won’t have an automatic right to live there once you split.
You can apply for what’s called an occupation order from the Court, which might allow you to stay living there, even if your partner wants you to move out. But applying for an occupation order isn’t always easy as there are a lot of different factors that need to be considered.
Our Family Law team could advise you on this if this is the route you decide to take.
What rights do I have to money in our shared bank account if we’re not married?
It’s common for couples to set up a joint bank account and use it to pay for things like bills, food shopping, house maintenance and holidays so, if you split up, what rights do you have to that money?
Put simply, if you have a joint bank account, then both of you will have access to the money that’s in that account, regardless of who pays what into it. But, if you can’t decide how to split it, which might be tricky if one of you paid in more than the other, then you might have to get the Courts to decide.
Again, our team of Family Law Solicitors will go to Court and fight for your access to those funds, even if you didn’t contribute as much as your partner.
What rights do I have to our shared possessions if we’re not married?
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to shared possessions like a three-piece suite, white goods, or any other furnishings you might own. But the basic rule of thumb is that each item belongs to whoever paid for it. If you paid for items jointly, then it can get tricky if you can’t agree on how to split them. Again, if your partner is refusing to share what you believe is partly yours, then we could negotiate your case for you, or suggest mediation as an option.
The best thing to do if you find yourself in any of these situations is to seek legal help as soon as possible.
But, if you’re not in the middle of a nasty break-up and want to make sure that you avoid this type of difficult and stressful situation in the future, then there is something you can do to protect yourself and your rights to any shared assets.
How to get as protect yourself and your shared assets if you’re not married
Unlike with marriage, the UK Courts don’t have clear Laws to follow when deciding who gets what when an unmarried couple splits up.
So, if marriage isn’t on the cards for you and your partner, then the best way to protect yourself and your access to shared assets is to draw up a Cohabitation Agreement. A Cohabitation Agreement is similar to a Pre-Nuptial Agreement in that it sets out what will happen to assets such as your home, money in shared accounts and any other asset that you share, including your children, should you break up.
We know it might be a difficult discussion to have with your partner, especially if you’re about to start a new life together. But it’s an important conversation to have, as a Cohabitation Agreement will not only protect you, but it will protect them too. And it will also save you money as it’ll mean you’ll avoid costly legal action, time, stress and financial problems if you do split up and can’t decide how to share your assets.
Speak to our friendly, experienced Family Law Solicitors if you need to create a Cohabitation Agreement. Or, if you have split up with your partner and you need us to help you fight for access to your shared assets in Court, give us a call.
We know how overwhelming, daunting and emotional it is when you break up with someone, so we always make it our priority to make any legal process as easy, straightforward and painless as possible.
For initial legal advice call our Family Law and Divorce Solicitors
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