The office for National Statistics has recently published new data about the makeup of families and households across the UK.
The figures show that although households consisting of a couples who are married or in a civil partnerships still make up the single biggest family type, with some 12.5 million families meeting this description, the fastest growing family type is that of unmarried couples (with or without children). Around 3.2 million families, or around 17% of all families, consist of an unmarried couple, and the number is growing. The number of families made up of a cohabiting couple has risen by almost 30% over the past 10 years.
If you are in a cohabiting relationship, it’s important to understand how this affects your legal position. Many people - (over 50% of people, according to a 2008 survey) , mistakenly believe that living together for some time results in a ‘common law marriage’ and that people in this position gain legal rights. This is not the case.
Although unmarried parents have legal responsibilities to their children, and an absent parent will be liable to provide child support whether or not the parents were married, there is no provision for financial support for a former partner, and where there are assets such as pensions, savings or property, these will normally remain the property of the partner whose name they are held in, even in a long relationship or where one parent has given up work, or sacrificed career progression, to care for children.
If you are not married to your partner, then you have very little protection, and few legal rights, if you split up, or if your partner dies without leaving a will.
If you are living together but are not married, then it is sensible to review your financial arrangements and consider what would happen if one of you were to die, and also what you would expect if you were to separate. You can then plan, and can ensure that you are both on the same page
Making a Will: Married couple automatically inherit from each other if one spouse dies without having made a will. Unmarried couples have no such automatic rights, and may not even have the right to make choices about their partner’s funeral arrangements, so it is important to make a will to ensure that your wishes are carried out .
Separating: No-one likes to contemplate their relationship ending, but sadly, many relationships do break down, and financial issues are often a major factor in relationship breakdowns. It is sensible to consider having a Cohabitation Agreement drawn up. This requires you both to think about, and to discuss, your joint finances, and you expectations and assumptions about your financial relationship with each other.
An agreement of this kind can enable you, as a couple, to decide how you will manage your financial relationship while you are together, but as importantly, to consider, and make provision for, what would happen if the relationship were to break down. Discussing these issues in advance can reduce the risk of disputes over financial issues in the future, and therefore lower the risk of the relationship breaking down. And if the worst happens and you do separate, an agreement can make the separation smoother and less stressful (and less expensive!) for you both.
Contact our Private Client department
to arrange to make or review your will, or our Family Department
to discuss a cohabitation agreement or to clarify what your position would be if you were to separate from your partner.