Recent surveys suggest that around 20% of couples who live together as a family are unmarried or ‘cohabiting’ and that this demographic is the fastest-growing type of family unit in the UK today, having more than doubled for heterosexual couples and increasing by roughly 530% for same-sex couples in the last decade!
Indeed, it would seem that many younger couples and millennials are shunning the institution of marriage for a variety of reasons, perhaps due to their own parents having divorced or a fear that divorce could leave them financially worse off, the headlines to promulgate this fear are certainly catchy.
Unfortunately, they may be leading themselves down a garden path.
Some 48% of cohabiting couples believe that they are in a common law marriage or are protected in the same way that spouses or civil partners are if their relationship ends. This is simply not true. Common law marriage doesn’t exist, regardless of how long you have lived together and whether or not you’ve had children. And if you are the financially worse-off or dependent partner, your partner will no longer have to support you.
So while political pundits and the like continue to debate the virtues of updating the law to include protections for cohabitees, there are a few smart things that couples can and should do now in order to avoid very complex, specialist litigation proceedings (that can be much more costly than average divorce proceedings) whilst they are literally walking down the garden path towards the purchase of a new home, such as entering into Declarations of Trust and/or Cohabitee Agreements, setting out your interests in the new home and what is to happen to it should your relationship end. You can do this before or after a home is purchased or if one partner is moving into the home of the other and you want to set out what interest that partner is to have in the property (this is true even if the answer is ‘none’).
There are other mechanisms that can and should be used as well and if you are cohabiting without protections in place, and are aware that the relationship is likely/soon to end, you should seek specialist advice straight away.
Please speak to Chrissie Cuming Walters via the contact details below for further advice.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.