The Living Together Agreement
Couples looking to move in together are advised to enter into a Living Together Agreement. Unlike married couples, unmarried partners do not have the legal parameters of marriage to govern issues such as house ownership (especially when one of them already owns a house) and their finances during and after the relationship.
Andrew Woolley, Senior Partner at family law firm Woolley & Co, says, ‘Most people think that if you live with your partner for a couple of years you get the same rights as married couples, but this simply isn’t true. Cohabiting couples have very few automatic rights and, contrary to popular opinion, there is no such thing as a common-law husband or wife. This is where a Living Together Agreement comes in.’
Dealing with issues before they arise, a Living Together Agreement is similar to a pre-nuptial agreement. It provides a framework for both parties to define their intentions and record their respective contributions to the partnership. In the event of the relationship ending, it provides clarity about finances and greatly helps in a sensible settlement of any claims.
Although no one enters into a relationship believing it will break down, a Living Together Agreement can be thought of as a safety net, assuring both parties that if the worst was to happen their financial security would be protected.
The terms to be included in the agreement will be decided by both parties. The agreement can include details about property, payment of the mortgage, outgoings, ownership of contents, liability for debt, ownership of bank accounts and much more. This in-depth assessment at the outset is of particular value to those who have been married previously or who own their own home and feel that moving their partner in may give them a claim to the property.
Cohabiting couples have little access to the established law governing married couples in the event of a separation or getting a divorce. A Living Together Agreement at a very early stage can eradicate this problem and avoid complicated legal issues such as rights to property. If one partner’s name isn’t on the deeds but they have contributed to the mortgage or rent payments or if the home has been occupied as the family home of the children, documenting these contributions in the Living Together Agreement will avoid complicated legal claims and help both parties avoid any unpleasant surprises at the end of the relationship.
Mr Woolley adds, ‘Normally the most significant asset of any partnership is the house and once you have decided to go your separate ways, the starting point is often to consider whose names are on the deeds to the property. There are some circumstances which may allow you to claim an interest in your former partner’s home, for example if it is the family home for children, or if you have paid towards it –- but this is a complicated area of law and it is very important to get some advice from a family law expert on your particular situation.’
If you were not married to each other, the contents of your house can also end up being the fuel that lights the fire. The basic rule is that each item belongs to whoever paid for it, but in some cases couples will be able to agree that it would only be right, for example, that whoever any children live with should have the use of the majority of items. Wishes such as these can recorded in a Living Together Agreement to settle any disputes, which may arise later.
For advice on any of these matters, especially those involving children, contact Woolley & Co, family law solicitors on 0800 321 3832.
Woolley & Co. Solicitors are family law specialists operating throughout the UK. Their website, www.family-lawfirm.co.uk, includes an extensive selection of articles covering every aspect of divorce as well as a free, downloadable in-depth guide to undergoing a divorce and overcoming any unseen complications that may arise.