Martin Lewis, Money Saving Expert, recently provided advice for unmarried couples who live together (“cohabitants”). If you wish to read the article you can find it here.
As family law solicitors, we spend a lot of time advising future, current or prior cohabitants as to their rights. 5 key things we think you should consider are:
- What happens if we separate, can my cohabitant make a financial claim against me?
The answer is yes, but on a limited basis. To make a claim on separation, you need to show that you have suffered an economic disadvantage and/ or your ex-cohabitant has made an economic advantage as a result of your contributions, whether financial or non-financial. A common example of this is where parties move into a property owned by only one of them. The party without ownership makes payments towards the mortgage, or funds renovations. On separation, the owner may have gained an economic advantage as their property may have increased in value due to the other party’s contributions. The non-owner has spent money on the property, but has nothing to show for it when the relationship ends, so compensation for that might be justified.
- Do I have any rights to remain in the property if we separate?
As a cohabitant you do not have automatic rights to stay in a property you have cohabited in. If you are not the owner, part owner or named tenant of the property you live in, then, on separation, you have no automatic legal right to remain there. You can apply for a right to occupy the property, but only for limited periods of time.
- What happens to the household goods on separation?
More often than not, furniture and plenishings have little economic value. Instead they hold sentimental value. The starting position in law is that for cohabitants, they each own what they brought into the relationship. As regards items acquired during the cohabitation, it is presumed that each cohabitant has a right to an equal share in household goods acquired (other than by gift or succession from a third party), but this presumption can be subject to challenge. This opens the door to dispute about how the contents should be divided.
- Should we enter into a pre-nuptial agreement if we intend to marry?
Pre-nuptial agreements are not just for the rich and famous. Married couples have many more legal rights on separation than unmarried couples. If you intend to marry your partner then you should take advice on whether a pre-nup is something you should enter into.
- What happens if my cohabiting partner dies without a Will?
If your partner dies without leaving a will, a cohabitant has no automatic right to benefit from a deceased’s estate. Without agreement from those legally entitled to benefit from the deceased’s estate, the surviving cohabitant must make a claim in court within 6 months of the date of death. The best advice is to make a Will.
What can you do to avoid a dispute on separation?
The best way to avoid future disputes with your cohabitant is to enter into a Minute of Agreement (a contract) which sets out what is to happen on separation.
For cohabitation claims if your partner dies, the best way to ensure their wishes are given effect to is for them to make a Will.
If you need advice in relation to your rights as a cohabitant please get in touch with our experienced Family Law team working in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth and across Scotland.