Ruth Tibbett is Head of the Family Law and Private Client Department at Wolf Law, a local Solicitor who prides herself on giving clear advice on legal issues together with friendly support and reassurance. Here Ruth comments upon cohabiting couples and their legal positions in life and death.
The number of cohabiting couples has risen by 25% over the past 10 years making cohabitees the fastest growing family type in the UK. Many people falsely believe in the myth of common law marriage. They think once they have been together for 2 years that they are treated as though they are married. They are not.
Couples who have bought a house together or who cohabit in a property owned by the other, should sit down and discuss what they intend their future financial arrangements to be. Those intentions can be documented in what is known as a Living Together Agreement. It records who owns what, what they are each responsible for paying for and what happens upon separation.
Cohabiting couples should also always consider making a Will. Previous wills should be changed to reflect the new circumstances and one should be made because cohabitees have no entitlement to inherit anything under intestacy rules. This can prevent court disputes over inheritances and make sure appropriate provision is made so the right family members are provided for on death.
There are also Separation Agreements or Deeds. This is a document drawn up following separation where there has been no previous Living Together Agreement. Again it records the financial and family arrangements. For example it could include provision for a mother to live in a jointly owned home until the children finish full time education and then provide for how the sale proceeds are divided when it is sold. It can state who pays for the various costs following separation. It can also outline how the parents are to behave towards each other in front of the children, what arrangements are to be made for the children to share time with each parent and what financial support is to be made available.
Unlike divorce, where the court can exercise discretion and choose from a wide range of options to do what is fair in the circumstances and taking account of people’s needs within the family, for cohabitees it is different. There is no legal right to maintenance for a partner and no right to a pension share. There are difficulties claiming shares of property or money in the other person’s name both in lifetime and death and very limited circumstances in which this could be attempted.
For many years family lawyers have been asking the government to help establish rights for cohabiting couples but it has not been a political priority. In the meantime the best way for cohabitees to ensure they have rights and that they protect their financial position is to take legal advice and act upon it.
Wolf Law, Champion, Arrowe Brook Road, Wirral CH49 0AB. – 0151 375 9944. www.wolflaw.co.uk