In light of the increasingly dismal economic outlook for the UK economy, it is all the more important for couples to ensure that they have as much financial security and independence as possible, particularly if their relationships end.
The trend of cohabiting couples who choose not to marry continues to see a significant rise. The 2021 census revealed that the number of cohabiting couples increased by some 22.9% from 2011 levels. Yet, despite unmarried cohabiting couples now being mainstream, there are a huge number of couples who choose to live together without marrying, who are completely unaware of their legal and financial rights – or, most worryingly, lack of rights – in the event of separation.
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Silk Family Law partner Wayne Lynn explained that the myth of ‘common law marriage’ has led to many people believing that they somehow gain legal or financial rights over their partner’s property automatically once they have lived together for a certain length of time. “That is pure fantasy, but regrettably, has led many people to make naïve yet disastrous decisions,” he said.
“The mere fact that you choose to move in with your partner, provides no financial security whatsoever, regardless of how long you have lived together.” Indeed, the reality is that upon separation, you are only entitled to those assets that you own, without the ability to claim for any ongoing financial support from your ex-partner if you are unable to afford to pay your day-to-day living expenses.
Given the cost-of-living crisis – high inflation, crippling rents, mortgages becoming more scarce, but with house prices stubbornly high – separation can potentially bring disastrous consequences.
However, whilst this may paint a bleak picture, there are ways and means to try to ensure that fairness prevails in the event of separation. Whilst the courts cannot impose a fair outcome, the couple themselves can discuss and agree how they wish to deal with their assets and incomes in the event of separation.
Any person who is contemplating living with their partner (or who is already cohabiting) should give serious consideration to having a grown-up conversation with their partner to look at what the financial consequences may be if they were to separate in future, and providing proper and fair safeguards, says Wayne. If the couple are able to agree what they believe to be fair, they can enter into a written Cohabitation Agreement, setting out the rights that they themselves have agreed, and which forms the basis of a legally enforceable contract.
A cohabiting couple is free to make whatever choices they wish, which may include providing some financial support in the event of separation which is of particular relevance where there are children. If one party is not prepared to consider making any form of fair provision for the other, it may be sensible to reconsider whether this is the right life decision.
Silk Family Law partner Wayne Lynn can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0191 4065002.