‘WE never thought we would split up’ is one of the most frequent comments that Kelvin Henderson, partner and specialist family solicitor at Nelsons Solicitors, hears when dealing with clients who are not married and then decide to separate.
“Lots of people decide to live together and more often than not, couples in that situation will buy a property, without having a full and honest conversation about how they unravel the finances should the worst happen.
“Many of my clients tell me that they did not have a discussion about who owns what in their home, or how much money each should contribute to bills, because they thought they would never split up.” Kelvin said.
“In circumstances where a couple move in together but the property was already owned by one party, it’s likely that the property is only in that person’s name.
“Sometimes one of them already owns the house and again, it is really important that they talk about who will pay the mortgage and what contributions each will be making to the bills and general maintenance of the property and what would happen if the relationship ended.
“Some people think that ‘common law marriage’ exists, but this is a myth and while there are strong arguments for modernising the law, at present couples who live together cannot claim the rights that would be available to them if they were married.
“Believing that everything will end amicably and that everything will be split equally if a relationship does break down is an easy mind-set to fall into. Over the course of a relationship a lot can change and to prevent later problems, I encourage cohabitees to put in writing what their agreement is.”
Kelvin specialises in advising on co-habitation disputes from a unique perspective, with his knowledge of both family and civil procedure.
Kelvin added: “Some of the things cohabitees should think about include whether or not to have a joint bank account and whether your wages all go into this account. You should also consider if you have a personal account, what it will be used for, how house contents are paid for and how to split everything if you break up.
“The point of setting things out in a cohabitation agreement is that, should the worst happen, the logistics are all laid out clearly beforehand and the process is made easier in what is already an emotional time.”
The Office of National Statistics reports that cohabiting couple families in the UK were the fastest growing family type between 1996 and 2016, more than doubling from 1.5 million families to 3.3 million families. The growth in this area may be due to couples choosing cohabitation as an alternative or precursor to marriage.
Despite this, many still feel uncomfortable about drawing up a cohabitation agreement but it can be vital in avoiding costly legal action at a later stage.
Kelvin said: “It is not just couples who need to have an honest discussion over who owns what and the outcome should anything go wrong. It is also something that parents or those gifting a property need to be clear about.
“Parents who are helping their children to buy their first home with their partner, need to remember that a gift is a gift. Should the relationship end, if there is no prior agreement in place to say it is a loan or to specify ownership of the house in unequal shares, the payment will be treated as a gift to both of them and won’t be taken into account when the proceeds of sale of the house are distributed.
“The parent who provides the money can’t come back later and say that they intended the money to be a gift just to their son or daughter and that the other person was not to benefit.”
For more information on cohabitation agreements or to seek advice following a separation visit Nelsons Solicitors website www.nelsonslaw.co.uk/living-together/