With so many couples choosing to live together without getting married, it is vital to understand the legal implications. Married couples have various legal rights under English law which do not extend to cohabiting unmarried couples.
It is important to understand what your legal position is as a cohabiting couple whether you live together happily ever after, later get married or are together for a while and then separate. Many people believe that they have certain implied rights by being a “common law” spouse. Unfortunately this is a myth and has no legal recognition in England and Wales.
Your partner is not your ‘next of kin’, no matter how long you have lived together. Also, if your relationship with your partner were to break down, depending on legal ownership, you may have no entitlement to a share of the property you live in and/or other financial assets.
All these things raise questions and, while it may not be easy to do, it can be very helpful if you are able to discuss these sorts of issues now with your partner. You can then state your wishes, in a legal document called a co-habitation agreement. It can take into account what happens if you separate and make the process much less painful.
Property Ownership: If you are buying a property together do you want to take account of one person, or their family, putting more towards the deposit than the other? Do you want to own the property so that if one person dies the survivor automatically becomes sole owner?
Belongings and other Assets: Is there anything you want to ensure remains in your sole name?
Wills and Inheritance: Are your children from your current or previous relationship adequately catered for? Will the survivor of you be forced out of your family home by your beneficiaries? Your partner is not your legal next of kin.
Cohabitation Agreements: These can cover arrangements for children, finances and even pets. Clarify what your intentions would be if you were to split up. This can help avoid misunderstandings not only if you split up but during your relationship, too. It can help cement your relationship if you are able to discuss openly these tricky concerns.
Breakdown of a Relationship: Unfortunately there is no specific law relating to people’s rights if they split up after living together. You will need to look into several areas of the law to work out your rights and responsibilities. If you have a cohabitation agreement this could ease a stressful situation
The most important thing is the welfare of your children. It is usually best for the children to have a meaningful relationship with both parents even if you find it hard to talk.