Couples living together do not have the same legal rights as couples who are married
Perhaps the area where this has the biggest impact is in the finances. The basic rule is that for couples who are not married (or joined together by a same sex civil partnership) they are essentially treated in the same way as if two flatmates decided to move out - i.e. you generally take out of the relationship what you brought in to it.
However just as the advice for married couples is to try and agree as much togehter as possible - the same applies here.
Your personal possessions
It's always a good idea to try and agree as much as possible between yourselves in terms of your personal possessions. You may end up using solicitors at some stage in the future but the more you can agree face to face the less you will spend in legal fees.
Your home - Owned property
If you have a joint mortgage, it's a good idea to speak to the mortgage company at an early stage to let them know what is happening. You aren't the first people in the world to split up and they should be used to dealing with this.
Going forward there are a number of different ways you can handle joint property:-
- Carry on paying the mortgage together. Presuming that you are living apart this tends to only make sense when (for example) the children are still living there and it's a good way to keep some stability in their lives
- One person buy the other person out - by transferring the property into one person's name. This depends on the ability of one person to support the mortgage payments on their own, as well as agreeing the amount to be paid to the other person for their share
- Selling the property and paying off the mortgage (which still leaves the problem for each of you of finding somewhere new to live but it is sometimes the only option)
- Paying off the mortgage (this obviously depends on whether or not you have the money to do so)
Before you take any decision on the property it is important to find out how much it is worth - most estate agents will come and value your property for sale for free (on the basis that they'd like to sell it for you later)
If you're renting your home jointly and one of you is moving out you need to get in touch with the Landlord to see if you can change the tenancy agreement and put the tenancy into the other person's sole name.
Any joint savings accounts or bank you may have wil need to be split - either to share the money in them or to agree how any overdraft is going to be paid off. It's always a good idea to talk to you bank or building society as soon as possible - problems tend to occur when they are kept in the dark and the first the bank know about it is when payments are not made. Keeping them in the picture avoids this and they will obviously be able to sort out whatever transfers are needed or set up new accounts.
Pensions, savings and debt
This part is simpler for unmarried couples than it is for those who are married/in a civil partnership. The basic rule is that your individual pensions, savings and debts are still yours.
Making a claim on the other person's assets
Under exceptional circumstances you may be able to make a claim on something owned by the other person. Some people try and argue that because they have been paying half the mortgage for so many years they should get half the property. This doesn't work I'm afraid because the law will view this as the equivalent of paying rent for half of the property - it doesn't give you any claim. Where we have seen it work is where (for example) the person who doesn't own the property pays for improvements to be done - such as erecting a conservatory or extension - clients have successfully argued that they shold have a claim to the increase in the property value as a result of this work. If you think you might have such a claim then contact our family department.
Prevention is better than cure
If you are an unmarried couple and thinking of buying a property together then you may want to think about it now. You may wish to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement which determines what would happen to the property if the parties were to split up at a later stage. Alternatively you can set out in the title deeds what shares the property is to be held in (e.g. 60/40, or the first 30K to one person and the balance 50/50). We can help you with Cohabitation and Pre Nuptial Agreements along with financial advice, for further information please contact our family department.
We offer a first 30 minute FREE consultation and 8:30am and 5pm appointment times.