In recent years, society’s attitude to unmarried couples living together has changed; there has been an increasing acceptance of less formal family relationships. However, the law has not kept up-to-date with the changes. Many people are living in residential properties with their boyfriends or girlfriends, and are unknowingly vulnerable to the harsh consequences of the law if their relationships happen to breakdown.
In English law, cohabitants include a girlfriend, a boyfriend, and even an engaged partner. The status of a cohabitant does not confer the same protection, legal rights, and obligations, as married couples or civil partnerships. If a cohabiting couple break up, the home belongs to the person with legal title. This means that if the property is in the name of one of the partners – for example, suppose someone has moved into a flat which the other already owned – then it will be very difficult for that non-owning partner to establish any interest in the property. It would require a reliance on obscure and uncertain property laws of constructive and resulting trusts.
Let’s imagine John and Susan are in a loving relationship. Susan has the legal title to the house and John agrees to move in with Susan. He has been regularly paying electricity, water, and gas bills for the past five years, and invested money to maintain the property. If their relationship breaks down, John may not be entitled to anything and will have to move out. It would feel unfair to be kicked out of a property and lose all contributions to it. The only way John could gain anything would require a long and extensive legal battle to prove he has a beneficial interest in the property. This is why it is absolutely vital to think carefully about the legal arrangements of the property before you start living together with someone else.
Cohabitation agreements and Declarations of Trust are legal agreements reached between a couple which will clearly spell out the terms of the living arrangement, contributions to the property, and the proportions of ownership. This means in the event of relationship breakdown both parties will have a clear understanding of the ownership in the property and how it is to be divided; it will avoid the uncertain altercation of legal proceedings over who owns what.
If you would like further information about buying a new home with your partner, or perhaps you are having legal issues surrounding a break up, or would like to know more about creating a cohabitation agreement then the family department at Paul Robinson Solicitors has a wealth of experience in representing cohabitants and we can assist you from the outset of the negotiations. Please contact our family service specialists and we would be happy to advise you.
Call us on 01702 338338 (Westcliff Office) or 01277 500123 (Billericay Office).
This article is created by a Paul Robinson Solicitors LLP “Brand Ambassador” who are students and unqualified. The article provides their views on the topic and does not necessarily deal with every important topic or cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not designed to provide legal or other advice and nor does it necessarily reflect the views of this firm.