Posted by Simon Bassett, Partner
What are your rights if you’re not married?
If you’re living with your partner (often referred to as cohabiting) without being married, you may be under the mistaken belief that you are known as a ‘common law husband and wife.’ It is actually a myth that if you are living with your partner, no matter how long for, that you have the same legal rights as married couples do.
However, this week a woman won a legal battle after half the home she shared with her partner passed to his estranged wife after his death.
Joy Williams, 69, lived with Norman Martin for 18 years, but he remained married to his wife. Ms Williams and Mr Martin owned their three-bedroom home in Dorset as tenants in common, meaning the property did not automatically pass to Ms Williams after her partner’s death in 2012.
The Judge concluded that the fair and reasonable result in the circumstances should be that Ms Williams should retain an absolute interest in the house where she and Mr Martin lived. Maureen Martin, Mr Martin’s widow, has now been ordered by Judge Nigel Gerald to pay £100,000 on account of costs within 42 days pending a detailed assessment. However, Ms Martin intends to appeal the decision.
The importance of cohabitation agreements and an up to date Will
The numbers of divorces are declining. Reports have suggested that this could be due to the increasing number of couples that decide to try living together first, before tying the knot.
As a family solicitor, we often see that cohabiting can sometimes leave one party in a financially vulnerable position, if the relationship breaks down, as very few rights arise from a relationship when parties are cohabiting. This can be particularly difficult if the property that you’re living in is in the sole name of your partner – it usually means you have no automatic right to a share of that property.
However, if the property is held in joint names, your position depends entirely on how you registered the property, upon purchase. The property can either be held as ‘beneficial joint tenants’ or ‘tenants in common’.
If you are unsure what the position is, it is always best to check. The solicitors that dealt with your purchase should be able to provide this information to you.
There are some situations when claims can be brought by non-married couples against their former partner. If you have children with your partner, it may that a claim can be brought on their behalf. These types of claims are complex and it is always best to obtain advice as to whether or not such claim would be worth pursuing through the courts.
It may be best, if you’re not thinking of getting married any time soon, to have an cohabitation agreement drafted, which defines and regulates the rights and responsibilities of each of you while you are living together, and what will happen if you separate.
Contact our expert family solicitors to find out more about cohabitation
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