Many people believe that living together like a married couple provides legal protections, such as an entitlement to a share of their partner’s property should the couple split up. In fact, there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’. Only those who are married or in a civil partnership gain these protections. What can be done to ensure you are protected should a relationship come to an end?
If an unmarried couple decide to separate, both parties will want or feel they deserve a split of the property they were living in and the money saved. However, if you are living in a property owned by your partner, you have no entitlement to any part of that property if you are not married.
In addition, the law will assume that any money belongs to whoever holds the particular bank account. A claim over money held in another person’s bank account could be complex and potentially costly.
Upon separation, child maintenance for any children of the couple is always payable. However, only married partners are entitled to claim ongoing spousal maintenance. Unmarried couples may find that they are not entitled to any money from the relationship, which can be particularly distressing if that person has contributed to the relationship for years. For example, a mother who gave up her career to care for the children would receive child maintenance, but potentially nothing else to support her following the split, despite the huge contribution made to the family.
The same scenario applies if one partner in an unmarried couple dies. If the deceased owned property, there is no automatic entitlement for any part of the property to pass to you if you are not named in their Will as a beneficiary. If you owned the property as Tenants in Common, the deceased’s share of the property would not automatically pass to you as it would with a married couple. Any savings or other assets would also not automatically pass to you, and you would then have to make an application to the Court to be treated as a dependent, which could prove costly.
In addition, as an unmarried partner you would not be entitled to any state bereavement benefit or a percentage of your partner’s state pension, as a married couple would.
Married couples are exempt from paying capital gains tax if they transfer property to one another. Married couples can also leave their entire estate to their surviving spouse in the event they die, without inheritance tax becoming payable. These exemptions to do not apply to unmarried couples.
Protecting Yourself as an Unmarried Couple
Many people do not wish to enter into marriage or a civil partnership, but everyone wants to know they are protected should the relationship end or a death occur. In this situation, it would be wise to look into creating a declaration of trust or a cohabitation agreement. These are methods of drawing up legally enforceable agreements on how property and assets should be divided in the event that the relationship ends or a death occurs.
Formal agreements on these issues, for which you may wish to seek legal advice, would mean that you gave give yourself similar protections to those enjoyed by married couples.
Coming to formal agreements with those you love could seem awkward, but armed with the necessary information and knowledge it is always better to be prepared and have clarity, and avoid potentially costly disputes should the worst happen.
Gareth specialises in Civil Litigation and Dispute Resolution, and can assist where such problems have arisen. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01702 348 384.
To ensure these problems do not arise, Frances White can offer specialised conveyancing advice and assistance at the point of purchase. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on 01702 348 384.
Nothing in this publication should be regarded by any person as advice or in the nature of advice: it should not be relied on; and the author assumes no liability whatsoever to any person.