Sadly, the law does not yet recognise the status of unmarried couples or cohabiting couples in any realistic way. It is a common misperception that simply by living together as a couple, parties to the relationship become ‘common law‘ husband or wife. The term ‘common law husband or Common Law wife‘ does exist in law, but it does not mean what most people seem to believe it means. Just by living together, rights and responsibilities are not automatically acquired. Since 1st December 2003, an unmarried father who registers the birth of his child does acquire Parental Responsibility, but the position for dad’s who do not register the birth of their child is more complex.
Couples embarking on unmarried relationships can however take measures to protect their interests at the start of the relationship. One such measure would be a prenuptial agreement. If you own or are thinking of buying a house or business, then you should seek expert advice on the best procedures to protect your interests and any money or effort that you may contribute to establishing the house or business.
Property in English Law can be owned by two or more people as ‘joint tenants‘ or ‘tenants in common‘. These are both very different principles and can have dire and unexpected effects on inheritance, unless you have taken comprehensive legal advice on the consequences and you know just where you stand.
Joint Tenants – an overview
Where property is owned as Joint Tenants, then on the death of one of the joint tenants, his or her share automatically passes to the survivor, irrespective of anything they may have written in their Will, assuming they even have one. Most married couples tend to own their house in this way, but what of the position where a second home is owned, perhaps an investment property or country home. There may be cases where that second property is owned as a joint tenant with someone else, like a relative or business colleague.
Tenants in Common – the basics
Tenants in common (or Tenancy in Common) own property in specific shares, which are stated and defined. It may be a 50/50 split, but for numerous reasons one partner may own a greater share of the property like 66%, a two-thirds share. Perhaps because they are contributing a greater percentage of the mortgage or they paid for the building of an extension or substantial improvements to the property. Where you do not specify the shareholding of each party, then the law assumes it is 50/50. Each individuals share is inherited according to their Will. There is no automatic inheritance and you should never assume that just because you are the spouse or unmarried partner, it will go to you. In situations where there is no Will, the consequences can be catastrophic.
As a general rule, any person who owns any property, ought to have a Will. Considering Mansouri & Son Solicitors can draft you your Will starting from £70 plus VAT (or £120 plus VAT for a married couple), it seems ridiculous to leave anything to risk. Talking about Will’s is depressing, but it is astounding how comfortable and refreshed client’s feel after making their Will. See here, for guidance on Wills and Probate.
Living Together Agreements
Not all agreements between unmarried partners are complex legal documents. Mansouri & Son Solicitors can prepare a simple, plain English ‘Living Together‘ agreement for you. These are also called ‘Cohabitation Agreements‘. This can embody simple principles of the relationship, upon which you are both agreed, at the outset.
Cohabitation agreements are very new to this country and the extent of their validity is yet to be clarified by the courts. But that is not to say that they are worthless. They are good evidence of what the couple expected at the outset of the relationship and can be useful evidence of the couples intention in relation to sharing property and, ‘what’s who’s‘? including the cat or the goldfish!
Despite what you may think, a Cohabitation Agreement or Living Together Agreement like this can be prepared for you for a straightforward and clear fixed fee.
Telephone 020 8401 7352 to book an appointment today