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Cohabitation – What are the risks?

At Watson Thomas Solicitors we provide legal advice and representation for clients who are just starting out in their relationship, such as when a Pre-Nuptial Agreement is required, as well as those who have reached the end of their relationship and are looking to separate or divorce. But not all couples choose to marry, and in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of couples choosing to co-habit rather than getting married.

In response to this trend, there have been calls for more rights for cohabitees, but until that happens it is important to understand what legal implications arise when two people live together, but do not marry.

Property

If a couple decide to buy a property together and they are not married, we would advise that they prepare a document which sets out whether the couple owns the property equally, or if one person owns more than the other. This is called a Declaration of Trust. If you do not explain how much each person owns, there could be an assumption that you each own 50% of the property or that one person owns nothing at all despite having put money into improving the property.

Sometimes there can be a risk that the couple won’t agree what to do with the property if they split up. To combat that, we would suggest that they also prepare a Co-Habitation Agreement. This document can explain how the property is to be dealt with if the couple breaks up; whether it is to be sold, or if one person gets first refusal to stay in the property.

If neither of the above documents are prepared, and the couple argues about who owns what, then a claim can be made under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act (TOLATA) to ask the Court to decide but it can be very expensive.

Bank Accounts

If a couple create a joint bank account, there is an automatic assumption that each party owns half of whatever is in the account. At the start of your relationship, this might be fine as you both agree what the account is meant to be used for. However, if you break up, this understanding might change. If you had a Co-Habitation Agreement this would set out how much money each person has, and what the bank accounts are meant to be used for. It can also stop one person withdrawing a large sum from the joint account unexpectedly by placing an agreed restriction on how much one person can take out.

Other Assets

When a couple gets married, the Matrimonial Causes Act creates an assumption that all assets accumulated after two people get married are part of one pot, even if they are in one person’s sole name. This does not apply when two people live together. If an asset is in one person’s name, even if both people paid for it, then it will be treated as belonging to that person, unless there is an agreement which says otherwise.

If you are co-habiting and are interested to explore the options available that will help to protect your assets, Watson Thomas Solicitors offer a free initial consultation. Please visit www.watson-thomas.co.uk or call 01252 622422 to make an appointment.