By Peter Jones, founder of Jones Myers family law specialist
Cohabiting couples are calling for a change in the law to give them the same rights as married couples.
The findings of the latest in a series of surveys reinforce a lack of understanding among this fastest growing family type which makes up 17.5 per cent of families in the UK and which is forecast to keep growing due to the revival of the property market.
One third of cohabitants believed they had same rights as married couples but, contrary to popular belief, there is no legal status in England and Wales for cohabitees.
The law if you live together and relationship ends
If you live together, the law does not offer the financial protection a married person would have if their relationship ended or their spouse died. You cannot share an ex-partner’s savings, pensions or business interests – nor can you claim maintenance for yourself.
In cases where a home is jointly owned the deeds, if in both partners’ names, should reflect the proportion they ought to receive on a sale. It is important before buying a home that couples receive the relevant advice as to how the proceeds should be divided. If they omit to do this, being awarded a share in any property depends on their ability to establish ownership, based on either a financial contribution or a common intention – a complex area of law.
For many years, Jones Myers has been a vociferous campaigner for increased legal protection for cohabitees and founder, Peter Jones, has lobbied the government for reform.
Our frequently asked questions and answers help to give couples security and reassurance:
How can I protect my financial interests?
A cohabitation or ‘living together’ agreement provides some security. It will encourage you and your partner to think clearly about what you want to happen if your relationship ends, setting out who owns what – and in what proportion.
What does a cohabitation agreement cover?
Cohabitation agreements also cover more day-to-day matters, e.g. pets and lodgers. They can document how you will divide property as well as paying off debts, personal belongings, savings and other assets should you split up – along with how children will be supported plus dealing with bank accounts, debts and joint purchases such as a car.
What’s involved with making a cohabitation agreement?
Agreements are often made at meetings within the non-confrontational process. We are ideally placed to help you decide whether one is right for you and, if so, how best to frame it.
When can a cohabitation agreement be made?
A cohabitation agreement can be drafted prior to and during your cohabitation to record who owns what at the outset – and how any jointly acquired property will be divided in the event of a relationship break down. It helps to provide a degree of security, while encouraging you to think clearly about what would happen should the relationship end.
Is a cohabitation agreement legally binding?
Yes. It is enforceable with courts supporting cohabitees’ rights in financial and capital claims.
What else can I do to protect myself?
It is vital for cohabiting couples to make a will and that they revisit it regularly. If one partner dies intestate (without a will), the other could end up with nothing. Depending upon the circumstances, it may be possible to make a claim against the deceased’s estate.
About Peter Jones
Peter Jones is one of the country’s leading divorce and family lawyers. A qualified arbitrator and mediator, Peter set up Jones Myers as the first niche family law firm in the north of England in 1992 and has acted for a string of high-profile clients.
Renowned for his sympathetic approach, he is a former national chairman of Resolution, a former Deputy District Judge – and instigated the D5 Group of law firms that promotes excellence in family law.