Cohabitation Awareness Week
Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing type of family in the UK but how many of those unmarried couples are not sure of their legal rights? This week, Resolution, an organisation of family lawyers and other professionals, are calling on its members to raise awareness of the lack of rights for those who live together.
Many couples mistakenly believe that as they are living together, they have the same rights as married couples as a ‘common law husband or wife’. What often surprises them is that there is no such thing as a common law marriage and many of the laws that provide financial protection to those who are married do not extend to cohabitants.
The law is not user friendly for separated cohabitants as they have to firstly prove they have a financial claim before they can calculate the extent of the claim. This is a particular issue where assets are registered in their partner’s sole name. Further complexities arise in the same scenario where there are children of the family whose financial needs may need to be protected under separate legislation. Cases decided by the court are not always clear which makes these types of cases difficult for clients to understand.
However, cohabitants can achieve peace of mind and protection by entering into a legal document that regulates what happens to their assets if they separate. A cohabitation agreement prepared by a family lawyer can detail whether any financial contributions towards a solely owned asset provide the payer with an interest in that asset or not. Where assets are bought in joint names but one person pays more a declaration of trust prepared by a property lawyer can record the arrangement to give greater security and certainty in the future. The best protection any couple can have is a declaration of trust and a cohabitation agreement so that couples are in a more certain situation if the unexpected happens.
Resolution has distributed resources to other professionals such as mortgage brokers, financial advisors and estate agents to help them understand the legal needs of their cohabiting clients and is lobbying Parliament to change the law to give better protection to cohabitants. For now and with the government preoccupied with other matters, cohabitants need to take steps to protect themselves, as it is unlikely any change in the law will happen in the near future. It is hoped that in raising general awareness, more cohabiting couples will recognise the need to have the right legal documentation in place to take care of their assets so they can take care of themselves.
If you would like further information about preparing a cohabitation agreement or for advice about a declaration of trust, our family team welcome your call. Please contact Lindsay Halliwell on 01202 294566 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.