The ONS (Office of National Statistics) releases a Families and households report every year. It covers patterns and trends in living arrangements in the UK including families, single occupancy and shared accommodation.
The 2017 report highlighted that cohabiting couples were the fastest growing family type and the 2018 report confirmed that the number of cohabiting couples has now risen to the second largest family type in the UK. The proportion of cohabiting couple families has increased from 15.3% to 17.9% (3.4 million people).
As the trend of unmarried couples living together continues to rise, what are the legal rights of cohabiting couples?
The legal rights of a cohabiting couple differ from those of a married couple. Unmarried couples that live together do not have the same legal protection as married couples and they have less responsibility to each other if they break up. Contrary to popular belief, there is no legal recognition for common law marriage in England and Wales.
Cohabiting couples and their property rights
Cohabiting couples do not automatically have the right to claim against each other’s property. If they have purchased a home together, it will depend on how the property is owned as to how the equity is split.
Cohabiting couples who jointly own a property will own it in one of two ways – as tenants in common or as joint tenants.
Joint tenant – this is where together, the couple own the property. Neither person owns more than the other and equal ownership is assumed. If one person stops contributing to the mortgage it is down to the other person to contribute on their behalf, as they are equally liable. Should the couple split – the equity of the property is split down the middle.
Tenants in common – each person owns a share in the property, this can be equally 50/50 or unequally 70/30, 60/40 etc. This should be supported by a declaration of trust which can set out how much each person owns and what will happen if they separate. If the couple should split – the property is divided up in proportion to the number of shares each has.
A cohabition agreement is designed to offer legal protection to unmarred, cohabiting couples. It sets out who owns what and in what proportion. It also outlines how, should the relationship break-down, the property, any key possessions and other assets will be divided-up. This agreement can also be used to confirm how you will manage your finances whilst cohabiting i.e. how much each person contributes to the mortgage/bills etc.
If you’re interested in finding out more about your rights as a cohabiting couple and what protection a cohabiting agreement can offer, contact Verisona Law today.
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