When cohabiting couples split up, there are no automatic rights regardless of how long they have been together – often leading to very unequal outcomes.
I am sometimes asked “how many years do we have to live together before we become common law husband and wife?” Unfortunately, the idea that if you live together for a period of time you become “common law man and wife” is pure urban myth – there is no such thing. You are either married, or you are not.
No automatic rights
If you are not married then it does not matter how long you live together – two years, eight, 40 – your status does not change. You have no automatic right to a share of property owned by the other. That means that if you split up, no judge can share assets
between you to achieve a fair outcome (as he or she can within a divorce), which can lead to harsh outcomes.
For example, a partner who has given up a career to live in the other’s house and bring up their children has no claim upon the other’s pension or a share of the property if they separate and no right to maintenance once the kids have left home.
As a consequence it’s really important that unmarried couples get good quality advice to find out where they stand and discuss what would happen if they separate.
This is becoming all the more relevant as increasing numbers of couples choose not to marry. In fact, the number of unmarried couples has doubled since the mid 1990s to around three million today.
Making an agreement
However, for couples who don’t marry or enter into a civil partnership, there is another option: a Living Together Agreement (or cohabitation agreement, or even ‘no nup’ as
it’s sometimes called). Such an agreement can make the difference between a fair outcome and a financial nightmare, by setting out who owns what and in what proportion – and how it will be divided should you separate. The agreement can also outline how any children will be supported and how joint bank accounts, debts and purchases (such as a car for example) will be treated.
So if you are cohabiting, it really is worth your while (and your partner’s) to think about making a Living Together Agreement. None of us like thinking about the end of a relationship – but taking time to plan while all is well could save you a lot of extra heartache and worry should the worst happen in the future.
To contact please call 01872 265100, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.