Moving in with a new partner is a big step for anyone. Whether you’re setting up home for the first time or have previously been divorced and have met someone new, it can sometimes feel like an exciting but daunting situation.
Despite the terminology, there is no such thing as a ‘common law spouse’, and at present cohabiting couples have no legal obligations to each other, unless they can rely on complex trust law. It is, however, possible to put in place various safeguards in order to protect your assets in case your relationship breaks down.
Seek legal advice
Whether you are purchasing a new property with your partner or one of you is moving into a property which the other owns in their sole name, take legal advice so that you are both aware of your rights and obligations towards each other.
You and your partner would need to seek advice from separate lawyers – it is usually not possible for one lawyer to assist you as a couple as this would create a conflict of interest for the lawyer.
Declaration of Trust
If you are planning on buying a property together but are putting in unequal sums of money, a Declaration of Trust will set out these different contributions. Should your relationship break down, your interests will be protected.
It is only ever possible to have a Declaration of Trust where the property is held as ‘tenants in common’ as opposed to ‘joint tenants’ so this is another factor to consider with a lawyer when purchasing a property jointly.
A Cohabitation Agreement, sometimes known as a ‘living together agreement’, is a contract which you and your partner enter into with the advice of lawyers. As long as some legal requirements have been met, the agreement is likely to be upheld by the court. The agreement can cover a range of issues, including who will be responsible for paying certain outgoings during the cohabitation, for example the mortgage and household bills, and what will happen if the relationship breaks down.
Obligations for unmarried parents
If you go on to have children and your relationship subsequently breaks down, the parent who ends up not living with the child is liable to pay child maintenance to the resident parent. In addition to this, it is also possible to apply for capital provision for the benefit of the child/children until they turn 16.
If you do not have a will or your will is not up to date, you may wish to rectify this. It is particularly important if you and your partner own your property as ‘tenants in common’ and you wish for your partner to acquire your interest in the property in the event of your death.
This is because, unlike property held as ‘joint tenants’, your interest in the property will not pass automatically to your partner. Instead it will be determined by the terms of your will or the law on intestacy.
Conversely, if you want to preserve your assets for your children, it also important to document your wishes so that they are clear and unambiguous.
Speaking to a family lawyer before setting up home with a partner is a great way to make sure you’ve covered all the bases and have all the financial and childcare provisions you need.
Once you have covered the practical and legal issues, you can relax into your new home and enjoy beginning your life together.
The Lester Aldridge family team deal with these and other issues on a regular basis and are frequently instructed by clients regarding divorce proceedings.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of separation, arrangements for your children or wish to protect your assets prior to getting married, contact the family team on 01202 786161 or email [email protected]