Cohabitation: Property in One Partner’s Name Solicitor
Unmarried couples who live together may mistakenly believe that sharing a household entitles them to a financial stake in their shared home, the same way it would if they were married or in a Civil Partnership. It does not. The perceived standing of “common law” spouses or partners is not recognised under English family law. It is very important, therefore, that you seek family law advice before you move into a home that is owned by your partner.
Talk to our family solicitors about your legal rights when cohabiting, and what happens if you separate or one of you dies.
Legal Rights of Cohabiting Couples
Moving in together, even if you cohabit for decades, does not give you an automatic right to your partner’s property or assets such as endowment policies and pensions. If your partner is the owner of your home and they die, ownership of the property will revert to their estate and whoever they nominate as their beneficiaries in their will. If they die without a will (intestate) then their estate will go to their next of kin, and you could find yourself bereft, grieving, and homeless.
If you live in a home your partner owns you may be able to register a legal interest in it if you have made a financial contribution to the ownership of the property. For example, you may have paid money towards the mortgage, footed the bill for home improvements, or paid part or all of the property’s deposit. The expenses need to be directly related to the cost of owning the property. Expenses like utility bills will not be considered in an application of legal interest, which is called Beneficial Ownership.
Beneficial Ownership means that although one partner’s name is on the deeds, the other party has some rights. For example, the legal owner can’t sell the property without the beneficial owner’s approval and, if there is profit from the sale, this needs to be shared.
Because your home is at stake, it is in your best interest to draw up a Cohabitation Agreement before moving in together. This can include:
- Specifics of who owns the property
- Whether they agree with their partner to make financial contributions in exchange for beneficial interest, and what proportion
- Who is responsible for bills, and which ones
- What will happen in the event of separation
Separation and Property
Family law advice is that cohabiting couples should talk independently to their own family law solicitor as soon as they believe separation is imminent. Acting early will help protect your rights and make sure you do not end up homeless and unfairly treated.
If you can’t reach an agreement about who is to live in the property, then you can apply for a Court Order. A judge will examine the circumstances around your claim and determine actions like allowing one person to remain in the property on the condition they take over all the related expenses, or forcing one partner to move out but have the other one pay them compensation.
Adding children to the equation changes things again. If you are a parent your name is not on the deeds, and you can’t prove a right to beneficial ownership, you can apply to register interest on behalf of your children.
An engaged couple who were cohabiting but who separated before getting married have, as long as they can demonstrate proof of their genuine intention to marry, the same property rights as married couples.
There’s no better way to be sure of your legal rights than by contacting family solicitors who specialise in cohabitation law.
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