Legal advice for unmarried couples #SolicitorChat with The Law Society.

During lockdown, many unmarried couples moved in together. As Valentine’s Day approaches, many couples may be wondering what they can do to celebrate this year – so why not give each other the gift of protecting their future? From cohabitation agreements to updating your Will. Alice Barrett discussed this and more live on Twitter this morning during #SolicitorChat.

Join The Law Society and other firms discussing on Thursday mornings 0900-1000.

What key legal considerations should unmarried couples think about when moving in together?

Unmarried couples should take stock of their assets before moving in together. If either party has property in their name, they should consider what they would want to happen to these assets should the relationship end.

If purchasing a property together, this will have additional considerations. The couple will need to ensure that their interests in the property are adequately recorded and protected.

How do unmarried couples’ rights differ from married couples? Does this change after a certain amount of time living together?

Unlike married couples or civil partners, cohabiting couples do not have the same legal protection and rights. This is irrespective of the length of the relationship, time living together or if they have children. Common-law marriage is a myth.

On separation, unmarried couples do not have automatic claims to assets owned by the other party, such as savings and pensions. Equally, they cannot claim maintenance for themselves as there is no legal duty to support the other financially.

There is legislation that unmarried couples can use in relation to property or where there are children of the relationship. If property is owned jointly, it is assumed it is owned equally unless there evidence to the contrary.

What is a cohabitation agreement and how can it protect unmarried couples living together?

A cohabitation agreement records how cohabitees intend to manage their finances when living together. It can cover elements such as the shared home, paying bills, pensions, possessions, pets, children and what should happen if the relationship breaks down.

It is important to take advice to ensure that the agreement is legally binding. It will need to be properly executed, the terms must be reasonable and both parties will need to take independent legal advice.

The agreement ensures that both parties are clear on their finances and the terms of their new life together. Whilst it is hoped that it will not be needed, it provides an element of certainty and can help to avoid disputes on separation, which can be costly.

Should unmarried couples moving in together think about making or updating their wills?

Yes. Unmarried couples will not automatically inherit from each other on death and their estates will be shared according to the rules of intestacy/any previous wills. Unmarried couples do not have a right to inherit under the intestacy rules.

The rules for the inheritance of jointly owned property are different and will depend on how a property is owned. If it is owned as Joint Tenants, then the deceased’s share of the property will automatically pass to the surviving owner.

If the property is owned as Tenants in Common, the deceased’s share will pass in line with their will or under the rules of intestacy. It is therefore important to check how your property is owned and to make a will.

What top legal tips would you give to unmarried couples living together?

Talk and record your intentions in writing. Many couples find speaking about finances uncomfortable and it can seem unromantic to discuss what would happen if the relationship was to end, but having a conversation at the start can avoid costly disputes later.

Get advice. Whilst there are many templates online, a cohabitation agreement should be specific to your circumstances and will need to comply with certain formalities to be enforceable.

Already moved in? It isn’t too late. You can make a cohabitation agreement at any time, whether you are about to start cohabiting or have already been living together for many years.

Keep your agreement under review. If you move house, have children or your financial circumstances change significantly, then it is important that your agreement is updated to reflect this as the court is more likely to uphold it in the event of a dispute.

Protect your interest. If you are purchasing a home together or are contributing financially to a property in your partner’s name, you should seek advice on obtaining a Declaration of Trust to record your interest and provide for an agreed split of equity.

The contents of this article are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this article. © Mundays LLP

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