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Cohabiting Couples: Your rights and the law

Cohabiting refers to couples who live together but are not married or in a civil partnership, but do you know your laws as a cohabiting couple?

And with many cohabiting couples struggling to make their relationship work in the mundanity of lockdown, below regulated property buyers, GoodMove has revealed everything you should be aware of if you’re a cohabiting couple in the event of separation.

Marriage vs cohabiting

Under UK law, cohabiting couples don’t have the same legal rights as married couples, meaning if you and your partner were to separate, you wouldn’t be automatically entitled to shared property or pensions, and you wouldn’t be able to seek financial assistance either.

If you separate when you’re married, you have a right to not be evicted from a family home. However, when you’re unmarried and living with a partner you don’t have the same right of occupation to your property.

In the event of a separation, you’d generally keep the assets that are in your name, and your ex-partner would do the same. However, if you’re unmarried but bought a home in both your names, it’s important to bear in mind that you wouldn’t necessarily get a 50/50 split in the home if you chose to sell. If it goes to court, factors such as the split in rent and mortgage payments would come into play, meaning you might not get a fair deal.

And if your partner dies without a will, you wouldn’t be entitled to their estate either as a spouse generally would. This all sounds a bit bleak – but not to panic. There are certain legal documents you can put in place to protect yourself against these things happening in the event of separation.

Cohabitation contracts

A cohabitation contract, or living together agreement, is a legal agreement that outlines the rights and obligations you and your partner have towards each other while you live together.

As there aren’t any cohabiting laws that decide how assets are divided, making a contract like this can help to make things easier if you do separate while living together.

Declarations of trust

One step further than a cohabitation contract, a declaration trust is a formal legal document that outlines what will happen to your shared property and how you’d like it to be divided in the event of separation.

It might not be something you’d like to think about as you move into a new home with your partner but making a declaration of trust means that you’re both protected and have legal rights if something goes wrong down the line.

Nobody wants to think the worst when they move in a partner, but Becky, 25 from Manchester wishes she thought more into it when she moved in with her partner: “When my ex-boyfriend and I broke up, we found it really tough to navigate the splitting up of assets, and although we were amicable, it definitely brought more tension into the situation.

“Because he had moved into my flat that I lived in before, it was agreed that I would stay there, and he would move out. However, there were so many items we had bought together that we both felt we had a claim to, from expensive things such as an armchair and TV, to little furnishings like wall art and plants. He felt he should get them as I got to keep the flat and he needed to find somewhere to live, and I thought I should have them because otherwise, I’d have to rebuy everything. In the end, we managed to work it out fairly, but if I knew things such as cohabitation contracts were available, I would have certainly put one together to save the additional stress and upset of splitting up assets on top of a breakup.”

Commenting, Nima Ghasri, Director at Good Move, adds: “Living together is a huge and important step for any couple. But cohabiting couples should be aware of the law, and make sure that their cohabiting rights are protected with legal agreements like a declaration of trust or cohabitation agreements in the event of a separation. Although nobody wants to think the worse when you’re moving in with a partner, it’s important to make sure you and your assets are protected.”

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