Do you live with a partner to whom you are not married?
Do you assume that if you have been together for a while, your relationship counts as a common law marriage?
Do you think that sharing bill-paying with your partner gives you a stake in the assets that produce those bills?
If your answer to any of these questions is "yes", consider the case of Pamela Curran. Now 55, she began a relationship with Brian Collins more than 30 years ago, and they lived and worked together and set up a business, eventually valued at £750,000.
When they split in 2010, Pamela assumed that she was entitled to a fair share of the property, but she was completely wrong. Brian was registered as the sole owner, they had no business partnership, and the court found that she was entitled to absolutely nothing. She received no share in the house, no share of the business, and no maintenance of any kind.
The truth is that there is no such thing as a common law marriage. The law does not recognise in any meaningful way a living together relationship outside marriage. If you choose not to take on the legal protection given by marriage, you really need to have a cohabitation agreement to define the financial entitlements of your relationship.
What would you put in this agreement? The main thing is the split of assets that takes place if you break up. It might also cover how you support your children, what happens to assets if one partner dies, how you deal with joint purchases, and whether one partner will be allowed to buy out the other on the split, and how you will pay your bills. You can also put in any of the other things that cause countless relationship disputes.
As long as both parties have had independent legal advice before signing, their cohabitation agreement will have the full force of law behind it. Expensive and uncertain legal proceedings can be avoided, as well as the anger and bitterness that can arise following an unsatisfactory outcome from a court case.
Author: Chris McGrail
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Alan Hodge Solicitors directly.
Published on 2nd May 2013
(Last updated 28th March 2018)