Planning to live with a partner for the first time is exciting, and sometimes a little bit nerve-wracking. It involves more than simply moving your belongings into a new home – there are practical and legal issues which you need to think about, to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.
Many people believe that cohabitation creates a ‘common law marriage’. In fact, this concept is not recognised by our legal system, and many couples find out, only too late, that they have much less legal protection than they expected.
Below are some important issues that you should discuss with your partner, before you move in together. Although it might seem unromantic to be thinking about what would happen if the relationship were to end, it’s much better to make sure you both have the same expectations from the start. This can help you both to avoid unnecessary disputes, and even expensive court proceedings, further down the line.
- Where will you live?
Will one of you move into the other’s home, or will you look for a new place together? If you are going to move into a home that your partner already owns, then you should think about whether or not you ever expect to own a share of that property. For example, if you make a capital contribution towards paying off the mortgage, or pay for substantial renovations, then you might expect to be entitled to some money if the home is sold later on. However, if you don’t have a proper written agreement about this your investment may not be protected.
- Will you rent or buy a home together?
If you are buying a house together, you will need to talk about the contributions that each of you are going to make towards the purchase price and any mortgage repayments. For example, will you each put in the same amount of money? Do you want to own the property on a 50/50 basis, or will you own it in different shares? There are two different types of legal joint ownership – known as joint tenancy or tenancy in common – and these affect the size of your share of the property and also what you can do with it (including whether or not you can leave it as a gift in your will). A solicitor can help you decide which option is right for your situation.
- Will you have any joint accounts or debts?
You will need to decide how you are going to pay all of the bills, and monthly outgoings, and many people open a joint bank account at this stage. You should also think about how much each of you will pay into the account, and what sort of things it can be used for. You might even be considering taking out a joint loan to cover some of the expenses. If so, you should be aware that your credit ratings could become linked just as with a mortgage, and so your partner’s behaviour could affect your own borrowing or mortgage capacity in the future.
- Are you planning to get married?
For some people, moving in together is firm commitment and a definite step towards marriage. For others, it is a practical issue, which is not linked to marriage in any way, or even makes marriage less likely. This can create real difficulties for some couples, so it could be helpful to know that you both share the same expectations, whatever they may be.
- Do you have any children?
Obviously, you will need to make plans for the practical needs of any children in the family. You might also want to consider whether you are planning to have any children together in the future. If so, this could have financial implications for the plans that the two of you make together. For example, after a separation one parent would normally be obliged to pay maintenance for the benefit of the child and in some circumstances they can be expected to provide extra financial support on top of this.
- Would either of you receive any financial support from the other?
As explained above, the ideal of common law marriage is not recognised by law in this country. If you rely on regular financial support from your partner and you don’t have children together, you would not normally be entitled to this if the two of you separate. Although you might not want to discuss the idea of separating, it is often better to agree how you would deal with that eventuality while things are going well between the two of you.
- Have either of you ever been married?
If either you or your partner has ever been married in the past, you should think about whether or not all relevant financial claims have been dealt with as part of the divorce process, as this is not always the case. You might also want to check whether cohabitation or remarriage would affect any settlement or entitlement from a previous marriage.
- Should you have a Cohabitation Agreement and/or a Declaration of Trust?
All of the points described above are issues that a family lawyer can help you with. It might be sensible to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement with your partner which sets out each person’s rights and obligations. This is a form of contract between the two of you, and it can be incredibly useful to refer back to later on. In addition, a Declaration of Trust is extremely important for anyone who plans to own property in unequal shares with another.
If you think that you would benefit from some tailored advice about any of these issues then please contact Harbour Family Law. One of our experienced family solicitors in Bristol will be happy to discuss your circumstances with you.
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