A popular misconception is that, after a specified period of living together, an unmarried couple become “common law husband” and “common law wife” and that, if they then separate, the same laws apply to them as if they had actually been married to each other. This is not the law. No matter how long unmarried couples live together, they will not acquire the same rights and responsibilities as a married couple. This can have dramatic and unfair consequences, particularly on people who have been in a relationship for many years and who have given that relationship no less commitment than they would have done had it been a marriage.
Buying a home and moving in together is an exciting time. There is a lot to organise, and we know that the last thing you really want to be thinking about is what you might do if things go wrong in your relationship at some point in the future.
However, if you are purchasing a property together in joint names and one person is contributing more than the other to the purchase, you should discuss this with your conveyancing lawyer at the time of purchase. You may wish to consider entering into a Declaration of Trust which, quite simply, is a legal document recording the manner in which the property is held and the shares owned by each of you.
If you are moving into your partner’s property and plan to live together outside of marriage or civil partnership, then you will not automatically have any financial interest in the property. If, at some point in the future, you broke up with your partner then the onus would be on the non-owning party to prove that he or she has a financial entitlement in respect of the property.
Therefore, if you intend to contribute towards the mortgage and/or the household bills, then you may wish to consider preparing a Living Together or Cohabitation Agreement with the assistance of a specialist family lawyer. This can, amongst other things, set out how the mortgage repayments and utility bills will be paid, how any joint bank account will run, responsibility for structural repairs and renovations, and what will happen to the property should your relationship unfortunately break down.
The Agreement might cover a variety of other areas, such as:
- Ownership of assets held in sole names prior to relationship
- Ownership of assets acquired during the relationship
- Ownership of gifts received during the relationship
- Liability for utility bills, mortgage payments and other outgoings
- Liability for debts, such as overdraft, credit cards and bank loans, for example
- Ownership of vehicles
It would not be appropriate for the same firm of solicitors to advise both parties about the content and effect of the Agreement, due to potential conflicts of interests, so each should obtain separate legal advice before signing the Agreement.
Whether you need help buying or selling your property or with a Cohabitation Agreement the lawyers at Thompson Smith and Puxon can help. They can be contacted on 01206 574431 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org