Moving in with your partner or buying a house together can seem like an exciting prospect. But few couples realise how risky their situation can be from a legal point of view.
It may seem outdated, but unmarried couples are not protected by law in the same way that married couples are. Sadly, by the time people realise this, it is often too late – the relationship breaks down or a partner dies, and valuable rights can be lost.
It is well worth taking legal advice to find out:
- what rights you do have;
- where you and your partner stand in all situations; and
- what you can do to make your position more secure
Things to Consider
Here are some of the main areas of law that we will cover with you.
If you move in with someone and the house is only in their name, usually you have no right to the proceeds from selling the house. This applies unless you can prove that you have:
- Contributed to the deposit for the house or the mortgage payments; or
- Paid for, or done, major work to the house
Also, if the house is not in both your names, you have no right to inherit the house if your partner dies unless they have put it in their Will. If they do not leave a Will, you may need to make a claim against your partner’s estate through the court.
We might recommend that the house is transferred from your partner’s name into your joint names, either as ‘joint tenants’ or ‘tenants in common’. If you own as ‘joint tenants’ with your partner, you are usually entitled to 50% of the money if you sell the property, and if one of you dies, the other automatically inherits the property, regardless of what is set out in your wills.
However, if you own as ‘tenants in common’, you have a right to your own share of the property but no more. By owning as tenants in common you can formally agree exactly what share of the property you each own by getting us to draw up a Deed of Trust. This can prevent disagreements later. If either of you wants to leave your share of the property to the other when you die, this needs to be set out in a Will.
If you are renting together, it is a good idea to have the Tenancy Agreement in both your names.
If you have children with your partner, you need to think about what the child will be called and how to register the birth. It is up to you and your partner what surname you choose for your child, and you can register the child’s birth jointly.
Under the law, if you and your partner are not married, only the mother of the child has automatic parental responsibility for the child if the child was born prior to 1st December 2003. However, with our help, you can enter into an agreement to share parental responsibility with your partner. This could be important if you and your partner split up.
For children born after 1st December 2003 if you jointly register the birth the father has parental responsibility as well. We can advise whether this applies to you.
If you live with someone who has a child from another relationship, the law gives you no parental responsibility at all. We can explain what this means to you.
If your partner is ill or dies, you may not be considered as their next-of-kin for medical purposes unless you and your partner make a written agreement beforehand. We can help you with this agreement.
If you and your partner have separate bank accounts, you cannot have access to money in your partner’s account. If your partner dies, the money in their account will become part of their estate. This means that you will not automatically inherit the money unless that is what it says in their Will.
One solution to this is to have a joint bank account. Then if your partner dies, the whole account will immediately become your property.
You and your partner will not have the same Tax benefits as a married couple, especially relating to Capital Gains Tax and Inheritance Tax. Unlike married couples, you may have to pay tax if you want to give major assets to your partner.
If you die, your state pension is not automatically passed on to your partner. Different rules apply to company and private pensions, and it is best to look at these carefully to see exactly what level of pension you and your partner have.
Making a Will
A Will is a useful way of setting out what property and assets belong to you as opposed to your partner. Unless you make a Will, your partner will have no automatic right to a share of your assets if you die, so it is essential to have one if you want your partner or their children to inherit.
These are a relatively recent idea, but they are slowly gaining recognition as a way of securing a couple’s financial arrangements and other matters. They set out, in advance, what each of you expects of the other, both during the relationship and if you separate or one of you dies. They are honourable agreements, which mean that not all clauses can be enforced by the courts. But they do serve to limit disagreements and certainly provide some peace of mind.
You and your partner should both take separate legal advice before signing such an agreement.
Sadly, most couples don’t take legal advice until the relationship fails, a partner dies, or there is some other crisis. It is rarely as easy to solve a problem at this stage, but we have the knowledge and experience to protect your interests. Whether it’s a simple case of checking your rights, or a complicated custody battle, we will work to find the best solution for you within the law.