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Not sure where you heard this phrase? It’s from the Beyonce song ‘All the single ladies’ and sums up the law surrounding cohabitation. I have lost count of the number of times people have told me they don’t need to get married because they are already common-law wife/husband [WRONG!]; or marriage is just a bit of paper and doesn’t change anything legally [WRONG!], or we’ll get round to it at some point but it doesn’t really matter does it as if I die he/she will get everything anyway [WRONG!].
As a family solicitor, my aim is to help people resolve any dispute as calmly as possible and nearly always those cases that are the most tricky are where people live together, share their financial resources, maybe have children, but do not marry. Why are these cases so tricky? Simply put – because the law surrounding cohabitation is not fit for purpose. We have seen with ‘no-fault divorce’ that it has a generation of family lawyers to see change come about and we will have to wait a bit longer for cohabitation legislation to reach the modern era. So, what do you need to be aware of if you live together but you are not married? And why should you have a cohabitation agreement?
Unless you are named as one of the home-owners then when your relationship ends you will most likely leave the property with nothing apart from your personal belongings and any money you have in accounts in your sole name. You need to either be registered as a homeowner (and be clear about what percentage of the property you own); or have paid towards a major renovation to the house (and have agreed beforehand that the contribution will be recognised) if you separate. Failure to do this will mean that you find yourself living in his/her house for years and when the relationship ends you will be asked to leave with little or no notice and no right to a share of the equity. Paying the utility bills or buying the food shopping does not entitle you to share the house equity.
· Irrespective of how long you live together if you separate there is no right to share pensions, receive maintenance or have lump sums of money to help you move into a new property.
· If you share children you might, if there is enough money available, be able to stay living in the family home until your youngest child is 18 or finishes their full-time education/A Levels – but only if the mortgage and bills can be paid and the other person can be housed too.
· If one of you dies there is no widows pension to be paid out – a real issue for couples that have been together for a significant time. If these issue impact you, contact our family law team to discuss your options.