Last month I looked at the myth of the Common Law spouse and the fact that cohabiting couples do not have the same protection as married couples if the relationship breaks down or one of them dies.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
For couples who own their own home, usually the most valuable financial asset in the relationship, who is registered as the legal owner is important. If the house is registered in the name of only one of you then this may cause difficulties if you separate, as the other person may not be entitled to a share in any of the equity. If the house can be registered in joint names, either equally as “Joint Tenants” or as “Tenants in Common” (with a Deed of Trust setting out different shares), then you will know exactly who gets what if the relationship ends.
If you are not joint owners then you may have to try to establish what is known as an “equitable interest”, for example by showing that you have made payments towards the mortgage, or have paid for substantial home improvements such as a new kitchen or double glazing. If you have made these kind of contributions then you will need to prove it, so keeping good written records and retaining all receipts etc. will help. On the other hand payments towards bills, food, holidays, or time off to look after the children are, unfortunately, unlikely to count.
Make sure that you have both made Wills. This will avoid problems if one partner should die, as the other partner will not be their next of kin. If you are appointed as their Executor this will simplify things further as you can deal with the administration of their estate under the Will.
If you can’t afford to pay into a pension and are relying on the pension of your partner on retirement, there is little you can do if you separate, as you are unable to make any pension claim. However, to protect yourself should your partner die before you, it may be possible to be nominated for any death in service or other death benefit which means you would receive a lump sum. Otherwise you could consider a life insurance policy which would pay to you a lump sum upon your partner’s death
If you have children with your partner you will be entitled to child maintenance even though you are not married but you will have no entitlement to maintenance for yourself (what is called spousal maintenance in matrimonial proceedings). Child maintenance can either be agreed with your partner and paid voluntarily or you can apply to the Child Support Agency for an assessment.
And if in doubt it is always sensible to seek advice from a Solicitor, if possible before you move in together.
First Published in Kings Hill Directory as two articles in June and July 2006