According to a YouGov survey undertaken earlier this year, 35 % of people living together believe that they would have the same rights as a married couple if their relationship ended; unfortunately this is not the case. The idea of a “common law marriage” is a pure myth.
At the end of a marriage, various financial claims can be made, but for cohabitees they are treated as separate legal entities and therefore it is just a question of sorting out jointly owned assets – and there is a presumption that these will be divided equally.
If you jointly own a property, for instance, no matter how much (or how little) you have each contributed, in the majority of cases, the value will be shared equally. With parents helping out with deposits more than ever before, things can get difficult if it all goes wrong. Similarly, if property is owned in the name of one person, it can be enormously difficult for the other to prove that they have a financial interest in it.
Even though cohabitees make up 17.5 % of couples in the UK, unfortunately there are no plans to introduce any new laws to protect them.
That being said, there are things you can do to protect yourself, such as entering into a Declaration of Trust to set out how the equity in a property will be divided, including repaying a third party if needed. Or, you could also consider a Cohabitation Agreement to set out what would happen to all of your assets if the relationship were to end. You don’t have to put this in place before you live together and so it’s never too late to seek some advice about this.
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