Couples who live together are legally known as “cohabitants”. Contrary to popular belief cohabitants do not have the same legal rights as married couples. There’s no such thing as a “common law wife” or “common law husband”.
Buying a home together is an exciting event. It is important that when doing so as cohabitants you consider whose name is on the title deeds. If both your name and that of your partner are on the title deeds then you will own the property as either joint tenants or tenants in common. If it is as joint tenants then you own it in equal shares. If you own the house as tenants in common your entitlement will depend on whether there has been a declaration of trust. This is a document which specifies what proportion of the equity you each own. If there is no declaration then if there is a dispute the division of the equity will have to be decided by the Court based on your financial arrangements. This will include looking at your respective contributions towards the purchase at the time when the property was acquired and payments made towards the mortgage and other household bills etc. This is a complex area of the law and you should seek advice from one of our specialist family lawyers.
If you and your partner wish to live together, we strongly suggest you consider entering into a Cohabitation Agreement. This is simply a legal document that allows decisions to be made about any possessions you have and the responsibilities in your relationship. Thinking about these things early on can make things easier and less painful in the event of a separation, and may have the effect of saving money on legal fees in the long run.
A Cohabitation Agreement is tailor-made to you and your particular circumstances and can cover important decisions on what will happen to your house if you separate, how joint possessions or debt will be shared, it can even set out how you will resolve any disagreements e.g. via professional guidance from a surveyor if your house valuation cannot be agreed.
The Cohabitation Agreement will come into its own if you separate and are unable to deal with the separation amicably. In this situation the Cohabitation Agreement may need to be enforced, so it is imperative that you seek legal advice to ensure your Cohabitation Agreement is legally binding and that the terms are properly negotiated.
If you own a property as joint tenants then on death the property will automatically pass to the surviving partner, no matter what is said in any Will that may have been made. If a property is owned as tenants in common the Will of the partner who has died will determine what happens to their share. If there is no Will then the property will pass in accordance with the rules of intestacy. Unlike husbands and wives, cohabitants do not automatically inherit from one another. This means that the only way cohabitants can provide for one another on death is to make a Will.
Children and Separation
If you are separating from your partner whether or not you own a home together you will need specialist advice on what to do and how to protect your position. Our specialist family lawyers are here to help and guide you through this difficult time.