Not yet ready to tie the knot?

Kathryn Bew, an associate solicitor at Wansbroughs Solicitors in Melksham, discusses what you need to consider in a cohabiting relationship. 

Looking to set up a home with your partner but not yet ready to tie the knot? You are not alone. The Office for National Statistics states that there are now around 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK (1). But, contrary to popular opinion, cohabitation does not give you the same rights and privileges as marriage. Here are just a few things you may wish to consider before embarking on the next chapter of your relationship. 

for richer, for poorer 
On the breakdown of a cohabiting relationship, the court does not have the wide range of powers to redistribute property that it has on divorce; rather, the court’s powers are largely confined to clarifying who owns what. In the case of the family home, this can still lead to lengthy and costly litigation. 

To avoid this, a couple can make a declaration of trust when buying their home. This confirms how the property is owned and may be particularly useful in the case of unequal contributions. For example, where one party’s family has contributed towards the purchase, a declaration of trust can provide for that contribution to be repaid when the house is sold before the remaining monies are shared between the couple.

More generally, a couple may decide to make a cohabitation or living together agreement. This is a contract that addresses various aspects of a cohabiting relationship, for example, the division of household bills. It can also determine the ownership of property on the breakdown of the relationship.

to love and to cherish 
Parental responsibility is the legal recognition of the various rights and responsibilities a parent has for their child, for example, the right to give or refuse consent to medical treatment or travel abroad. Mothers automatically have parental responsibility, as do fathers if they are married to the mother at the time the child is born. 

However, unmarried fathers must acquire parental responsibility. The easiest way to do this is to be registered as the child’s father on their birth certificate. Other ways include entering a parental responsibility agreement or subsequently marrying the child’s mother. 

til death us do part 
When a person dies without having made a will, their estate is distributed in accordance with the rules of intestacy. Unfortunately, these rules do not make any provision for a cohabiting partner. Although it is possible for a cohabiting partner to claim against the estate, the process may be long and the outcome uncertain. It is preferable to avoid this situation entirely by making adequate provision in a will. 

(1) Office for National Statistics (2017) Statistical Bulletin: Families and Households: 2017 (available at <https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/families/bulletins/familiesandhouseholds/2017>)

If you would like further information about cohabitation, the Family Team at Wansbroughs offer free initial appointments. Call 01225 896100 or 01380 733300 or email family@wansbroughs.com.

Last updated 06/02/2018