January 24, 2014

Cohabitation is on the rise – but why don’t couples know their rights?

Blog by Peter Jones

It’s very encouraging to hear that the government is taking the advice of leading think tank The Marriage Foundation to look at ways of keeping families together, particularly as cohabiting heterosexual couples with dependent children account for 50% of family breakdown.

But with the Office of National Statistics revealing that the number of cohabiting couples doubling since 1996 to 5.9 million, it is surprising that many are still not aware that they do not have any legal rights should their relationship come to an end.

I was optimistic last year when the Joint Committee on Human Rights urged the government to extend the same rights to heterosexual couples living together as same sex couples.

It was also great news when the Liberal Democrats passed a motion calling for the rights of these couples to have better rights on separation and death to include greater financial and property rights and the reform of the law of intestacy – death without a valid will.

And whilst I know it will take time for any changes to be implemented, I was hopeful with all the publicity surrounding the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, that people would be aware that there is no such thing as a common law marriage.

Currently, couples living together have no status in English law, so when the relationship of a cohabiting couple breaks down, they do not have the legal right to maintenance or their share of assets which could include property and inherited property.

Jones Myers has been campaigning for legislation that supports unmarried couples for a number of years. It is more important than ever that changes are made, particularly as more couples are expected to move in together with the recent resurgence of the property market.

After all, no-one wants to end up like Pamela Curran who found herself homeless and penniless after a 30 year relationship with ex Brian Collins.

Despite living and working together, because Mr Collins was registered as the sole legal and beneficial owner of their business and the adjacent property in which they lived, a court ruled that Ms Curran had no legal rights to a share in the business or the home.

This is why we encourage all our clients who plan to live together, to take out a cohabitation agreement.

This sets out who owns what and in what proportion as well as documents how property, its contents, personal belongings, savings and other assets can be divided should a relationship come to an end. It can also cover how many children will be supported as well as how to deal with bank accounts, debts and joint purchases, such as a car.

Cohabiting couples should also ensure they have each written a will. If one partner dies without leaving one, the other partner could end up with nothing.

If you have any questions or concerns about cohabitating please call us on 0113 246 0055, leave us a comment below or drop us an e-mail.