Family Law organisation Resolution is campaigning for better cohabitant rights, helping unmarried couples to access the same legal protection as those who are married.
Despite cohabitation being the fastest growing type of family unit in the UK, the law has yet to catch up with the needs of unmarried couples when it comes to legal rights.
Unlike married couples, cohabitants lack certain protections when it comes to separation, property, inheritance, and even child maintenance. This can cause serious issue when cohabiting couples separate, or if one of them dies without naming their partner in their will, as there are currently no automatic processes for the division of assets or inheritance for unmarried couples.
Needless to say, there ought to be #ABetterWay for cohabiting couples to enjoy the same legal rights and protections as married couples and those in a civil partnership, but until the law changes, it’s vital that cohabitants put certain legal safeguards in place to make sure they are not left lacking should the worst happen.
Despite popular belief, there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’ under UK family law, which means that unless your assets will be considered individual and separate unless you have drawn up legal documentation which details your financial and living situation. This can be done via a cohabitation agreement, which is a little like a prenuptial agreement in that it offers an opportunity to set down what share of joint assets you each hold, your intentions for the division of finances and property in the event of separation, plans for co-parenting and child maintenance, and anything else that you would normally deal with during the process of divorce.
When it comes to property, particularly if one of you is not named on the deeds, it’s also a good idea to draw up a Deed of Trust to clearly set out what claim each of you have on the property. Your solicitor will be able to help you to find a fair way to divide these assets, as the division of labour and finances is rarely 50/50. For example, perhaps one of you pays the mortgage, while one of you pays the bills, or one parent stays home to look after the children while the other goes out to work. In each case, you are both contributing to the household, albeit in different ways, and you should both legally benefit from these investments of your time and money. Without a cohabitation agreement or deed of trust, however, the law will only pay attention to whose name is on the deeds and bills, potentially leaving one of you with nothing.
Similarly, an up-to-date will is essential for cohabiting couples who wish their partner to be able to inherit after they’re gone. Unlike married couples, your assets will not automatically pass on to your partner unless you specifically state this in your will. The same goes for any step-children or adopted children. Update your will with details of your assets, property, children, and any personal requests you’d like to be honoured, and make sure your partner is not left out!
As a cohabitant, it’s vital that you seek out extra legal help to protect your family. It needn’t be complicated or expensive – the three simple legal documents mentioned above are all you need:
- A cohabitation agreement for finances, assets and children’s arrangements
- A deed of trust for property
- An up-to-date will
As members of Resolution, we will keep campaigning for a change to UK family law and request better legal safeguards for cohabiting couples, but for now, if you have any questions about cohabitation or would like a free 45-minute consultation with our friendly family lawyers, please get in touch at www.franceslindsay.co.uk.