Couples who live together are often under the mistaken belief that they are "common law" husband and wife and that therefore they have the same rights on a Relationship Breakdown as a married couple. There is however no such legal status. Couples who live together have hardly any of the legal rights that a married couple do.
As the law stands, the only solution for cohabiting couples who want legal protection should they split up is either to marry or enter a Civil Partnership, or to draw up a Cohabitation agreement, otherwise known as a living together agreement.
The difficulties which can be faced by unmarried cohabitees are plainly demonstrated by the recent case of Pamela Curran, who was in a relationship with her partner for more than thirty years – some would say significantly longer than the average marriage these days.
Ms Curran and her partner ran a boarding kennels and cattery business which was bought in 2007 for £750,000. Ms Curran’s partner, Mr Collins, was registered as the sole legal and beneficial owner of the business and the adjacent property in which they lived together. The couple Separated in 2010 and Ms Curran sought a share in the business and the property from Mr Collins. She said she had always trusted Mr Collins and assumed that if they ever split up she would receive a "fair share" of the business and property. Unfortunately for Ms Curran however, a county court judge ruled that she had no right to a share in the business or the home they had shared because the couple had not established a business partnership.
Ms Curran has recently been granted permission to appeal against the county court ruling by Lord Justice Toulson, who told her she was the victim of unfair and old-fashioned property laws which offer little protection to cohabiting couples whose relationships came to an end. The Lord Justice Toulson also added that ‘Sadly, [Ms Curran] found herself in the classic position of a woman jilted in her early 50’s, having very much made her life with [Mr Collins] for over 30 years. The law of property can be harsh on people, usually women, in that situation. Bluntly, the law remains unfair to people in [Ms Curran’s] position, but the judge was constrained to apply the law as it is’.
To ensure that you own your property as you intend, it is important that either at the time of purchase or subsequently you have an express declaration of trust in a living together agreement or a deed of trust. You should also review your agreement as your circumstances change and ensure your agreement is updated. Your living together agreement can set out how the mortgage and other property costs will be paid. It can also provide the framework in the event of a separation and can cover not only entitlement to the net equity in the property but also provide for the Division of other assets or debts and provide for maintenance payments.
For more information on living together agreements please contact Slater and Gordon on: 0800 916 9055 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.