February 12, 2016

Why cohabitation agreements reduce risk of being homeless

The news that 69-year-old grandmother Joy Williams who never married her partner of 19 years may lose her £355,000 home as his ex-wife inherited half the property highlights the need for unmarried people who live together to protect themselves.

Six million couples in the UK live together without getting married – the highest number to date.

With separation rates among cohabitees on a par with the number of divorces, death or separation in a cohabiting relationship can lead to serious problems, no matter how long they have lived together.

This because unlike married couples and those in civil partnerships, cohabitees have no automatic rights, protection or legal status in England and Wales. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a ‘common-law spouse’.

The latest case sees a scenario where the grandmother’s partner of two decades had not divorced his wife, leading to his estranged spouse claiming for a share of his estate when he died.

The bereaved pensioner, Joy Williams, now faces a costly court battle and the prospect of selling her home – a traumatic situation which could have been avoided had Miss Williams and her partner Norman Martin set in place a cohabitation agreement – giving them peace of mind by clearly setting out what will happen when one partner dies or if they split up.

A cohabitation agreement 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 – along with whether a surviving partner can stay in the property.

It also covers how children will be looked after, including those from previous relationships – as well as how to deal with bank accounts, debts and joint purchases, such as a car.

In the absence of a formal separation agreement, it is also a good idea for a still-married partner to finalise their divorce, so that all involved know where they stand.

The situation highlighted above was exacerbated by Mr Martin failing to make a will – which is why half of his share of the home he shared with his partner, along with half of his assets – went to Mrs Martin.

We’ve also previously reinforced the importance of how failing to make a will spells doom for cohabiting couples – because they will inherit nothing if their partner dies without a will and has dependent children.

We strongly advise all our clients to draw up a will, and review it regularly, to ensure that their final wishes are met and that they do not leave their loved ones financially and emotionally bereft.

Regular readers of our blog will know that Jones Myers has been campaigning for legislation that supports unmarried couples for a number of years. Couples who live together run the risk of being left homeless and penniless until English law is reformed to give them the rights they deserve.

If you have any queries about cohabitation agreements or divorce related issues please leave a comment below, call the Jones Myers team on 0113 246 0055, or tweet us on @helpwithdivorce.