There is a growing trend towards the number of couples who choose to move in together before marriage, with there being over 3 million partners across the UK who are now cohabiting.
Making the decision to move in together takes some time and thought, and you may even go as far as to think about your legal rights when the time comes for the two of you to move in together. Do your rights as an unmarried, cohabiting couple differ from those who are married?
That’s where we can help. In our series of cohabitation guides, we offer a advice on everything you need to know about your rights as a cohabiting couple. In this first post, we look at your rights when moving into your partner’s property.
What is classed as cohabitation?
The term cohabitation refers to couples who are living together but aren’t married. Without marriage, the two of you tend to have fewer legal rights, depending on your situation. Your rights can alter depending on whether you own the house together, or the property is in one of your names. Having children can also create different circumstances in terms of your rights.
Moving into your partner’s property?
It’s very common for partners to choose to move in together, within a home that’s already owned by one of them. In these cases, however, the partner that’s moving in will have no automatic legal rights over the property itself, should the relationship break down in the future.
In unfortunate circumstances, such as your partner’s death, you will not automatically be entitled to any share of the property of their estate, if you do not have a joint ownership with your partner, unless they have otherwise stated it in a will.
As the property had already been purchased in the past, you will need to discuss whether you intend to transfer the property into your joint names. This is likely to require a change to the mortgage, or even a new mortgage, and a legal transfer of the property.
If both parties choose to do this, then the property can be held in a variety of ways. It can be held jointly so that both have equal ownership, or it can be held in different shares depending on the circumstances. This process is known as Transfer of Ownership and is something that our team here at Abacus can support you with. Both parties will need clear legal advice on their rights and obligations in relation to the transfer and it is key that you do this together, to avoid problems further down the line if the relationship goes through cohabitation disputes.
Cohabitation Disputes concerning Joint Ownership
Some couples can fall into cohabitation disputes when it comes to the transfer of ownership. The original owner of the property might not want to share the ownership, or there could be disagreement about the level of shares each of you own, for example. If you both can’t agree for a transfer to happen, you should still seek advice when a partner moves in. We would advise that you obtain a cohabitation agreement to govern the parties’ respective obligations and interests in the property.
For example, you may have lived in the property for several years. You put down a significant deposit when you purchased it and have reduced your mortgage over a course of years, having substantial equity. You may not wish to give your partner a share in what you have already put in. However, when your new partner moves in, they may then be sharing in the mortgage payments and the outgoings in relation to the property going forward. The two of you may think it fair that you get credit for your contribution so that either a Transfer of Ownership or a cohabitation agreement can deal with the interests in the property.
It’s important to know that the law in relation to cohabitation is based on trust law and trusts can arise in varying circumstances. If you have had discussions about ownership and/or your partner contributes to the purchase price of the property (such as payment of a lump sum off the mortgage or payment of monthly instalments), for example, then they could acquire an interest in the property. Also, substantial works to the property could give rise to an interest if they have added value. It can be a minefield so again, it is better that all parties know where they stand during the course of the relationship, by having a cohabitation agreement to avoid costly disputes further down the line.
Speak to our cohabitation dispute solicitors
If you are looking forward to moving in with your partner, you shouldn’t let concerns about your cohabitation rights and cohabitation disputes deter you from doing so. There are a number of ways to protect your legal rights or to share them out fairly.
Speak to one of our specialist cohabitation solicitors, who can help you to draw up a cohabitation agreement. This is a legal contract that sets out how much money you should both put towards mortgage instalments, bills and weekly budgets, to name a few. It can also record the agreements between the parties regarding their beneficial interests in the property. This will offer some assurance that both partners will provide as much or as little money as they want towards the cohabitation, as agreed between the two of you.
Cohabitation rights can be quite confusing, with various circumstances meaning different things in legal terms. As such, we are more than happy to offer advice and support when it comes to your cohabitation, so feel free to give us a call, or book a consultation with us. Make sure to read the second part of the series, that looks at cohabitation rights when buying a property together.