More than three million couples in the UK live together. For any number of reasons, many do not intend to marry. However, this means if they split up, their rights are limited. If you are considering moving in with your partner, or are already living with a partner but are unmarried, here are some essential points to note:-
- Forget about “common law spouses”
There is no such thing in Scotland as “common law marriage” and it should not be assumed that cohabitees have the same rights as married couples, or can gain them just by living together for some time.
- Property Ownership
If the ownership of your home is on a joint basis then property law at the time of separation will mean that you are each due an equal share of the value of the house. If unequal contributions are made at the time of purchase then it may not be possible for these contributions to be re-claimed at the time of separation when the property is sold. Property ownership should be agreed at the time of purchase. The title to a property can be taken in unequal shares to reflect financial contributions at the time when a house is bought.
- Pension Nominations
Pension sharing is available on divorce, but is not possible for co-habiting couples who split up, or if one partner dies. Benefits paid from a pension scheme may ensure that the surviving partner is provided for, so it is important to nominate your partner as your dependent for any death benefits, and to make sure that your partner does the same.
- Maintenance Obligations
When a woman gives up work, to care for children or to enjoy a different lifestyle, her earning potential can diminish. Wives who divorce their husbands are entitled to maintenance (legally called “aliment”) but women who co-habit have no such rights when the relationship breaks down.
- Insure your Lives
This is particularly important if there are dependents or debts. If one party is reliant on the other’s financial contributions, then the sudden loss of that financial support could have significant consequences.
- Make a Will
If a co-habiting partner dies intestate, without a Will, the surviving partner is not automatically entitled to a share of the estate.
- Watch your inheritance tax
If your partner dies, inheritance tax could cripple your finances. The exemptions available to married couples do not apply to those who have been living together. Expert tax advice is essential.
A married father acquires automatic parental rights and responsibilities to a child at the time of the child’s birth. Unmarried fathers who attend at the registration of the birth and are noted on the birth certificate as the child’s father acquire the same rights, but have no parental rights and responsibilities if not named on the birth certificate.
- Gifts and Inherited Funds
The divorce laws contain certain provisions that can take account of funds gifted to or inherited by one spouse during a marriage if the funds are used for the benefit of both spouses during the marriage. There are no similar provisions in the law relating to unmarried couples. If you are gifted a sum of money or inherit a substantial sum and decide to use it, for example to extend a property that is in joint names, it may not be possible to re-claim the funds when the relationship breaks down.
- Sign a Co-habitation Agreement
When couples move in together, it is sensible to think about how assets should be owned and what will happen to any assets, particularly the house, should the relationship break down. A co-habitation agreement drawn up by solicitors can cover property division, parenting arrangements and financial obligations, during, but more commonly following the end of, a relationship. Agree arrangements with your partner at the time of moving in together that will ensure neither of you will be left high and dry if the relationship ends. Litigation is expensive. A co-habitation agreement is money well spent.
If you would like to discuss any of the matters above, our team of family lawyers will be happy to advise. Lynne Collingham is an accredited specialist in family law and child law and can be contacted on 0141 225 2576 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org