According to the latest information from the Office of National Statistics – ONS – 3.3 million families are now co-habiting and it is the fastest growing sector and the second largest group. Until the law changes though cohabitants need to take a proactive approach to protect them-selves. There is no such thing in law as a “common law relationship”.
Cohabiting couples may think they have protection and rights, especially if there is a home or children involved, but without the right legal protection people can be left high and dry.
Couples living together have fewer rights than if they were to be married or in a civil partnership. It affects the entitlement to estate on the demise of one or other of the couple, property shares if you split up and access and parental responsibility of children.
Here’s how you can protect your rights.
Wills and inheritance – couples living together have no automatic right to each other’s assets on death. If no will has been made, the rules of intestacy mean that the estate passes to the next of kin (this can be an estranged child of a former relationship from many years in the past.) Or the Crown if no next of kin can be fund. Our advice is to make a mirrored will. A mirrored will is suitable for couples who have similar or identical wishes.
Property – if you split up and one of the couple owns the property, the other will have no automatic right at any share of it. If you buy a property as a couple it is advisable to instruct your lawyer to purchase the property jointly.
If you are living together now and the house belongs to one party, you can get a cohabitation agreement drawn up which formalises each person’s rights and responsibilities towards each other – slightly unromantic – but they can help you out of a jam of the relationship breaks down and will avoid costly litigation. You can also protect your interest in property .
Children and parental responsibility – if the child was born after 1 December 2003 and both parents register the birth the child has shared parental responsibility. Otherwise it is the mother that has parental responsibility and they can not lose it (except by adoption, rarely a court order). If you are a father or partner of a child and you have not jointly registered the birth you can set up a parental responsibility agreement. You don’t need a lawyer for this. You can download the form from the Government’s website and follow the instructions for registration.