When couples who are living together separate, there are no automatic rights – even if they have been in a relationship for many years. This is a hard thing to come to terms with.
Does common law marriage exist?
We’re often asked ‘how long do I have to live with my partner before we become common law husband and wife?’ Unfortunately, ‘common law marriage’ is a myth – and there aren’t any rights given after a certain amount of time.
What can be done for couples living together?
There are ways that you can try to protect your position and finances. If you and your partner are buying a property together, we’d recommend thinking about how you own the property by entering into a Deed of Trust. It might be that you are contributing different amounts to the purchase – in which case you may not want to own the property in equal shares. Of course, every situation is different but it is something to consider.
We’d recommend that the best thing both of you can do to protect yourself when living together is to enter into a cohabitation agreement. This can be a really detailed document – not only setting out how you will own the property, but what your contributions to household bills will be and what will happen if the relationship breaks down. It’s absolutely fine to put other things in the document too – there really is no limit as to what you can include.
Although a cohabitation agreement can never be watertight, it puts you both in a really good position for the future having thought these things through. It’s much more complicated to sort out disputes about property for example if there isn’t a cohabitation agreement in place.
If the worst does happen and you do end up in a dispute about property that you own with someone else, we can help. Maybe you disagree about selling the property or argue about unequal shares in the property. Or on the other hand you might not have an interest in the property registered at the Land Registry but you may have contributed significantly and want that recognised. In these situations, and whichever side of the dispute you’re on, we can help to try and resolve the problem. Often that involves using the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act to obtain a declaration from the Court and, if necessary, make an order that the property is sold.