Thinking of moving in together? Odds are you’re browsing estate agent windows long before you’re looking in the local jeweller’s for an engagement ring. Times are changing and living in sin is no longer a consideration for the majority of couples in the UK. Marriage is at an all time low, thanks to the decline in religion, improving gender equality meaning both sexes can support themselves equally and the fairly modern concept that marriage should be for love.
Choosing to forego the stage of marriage in favour of living together first might be better for your relationship, but without taking the proper legal precautions, it can cause a lot of problems in the event of a split. After all, one of the main reasons for moving in together is to test a relationship out before committing to each other till death do you part, so there’s higher likelihood of a split. Whether you have children together, a mortgage together, or even something as simple as a couch together, here’s how — and why — to go about a cohabitation agreement and make sure you can move in together with peace of mind.
Sharing a Mortgage? Save Yourself a Headache Down the Line
If you decide to buy a property together as a couple, the automatic form to sign is one which calls you “joint tenants”. In the event of a split, this entitles you both to 50% of the property sale value. Realistically, though, it’s very rare that couples will be going 50:50 in what they front for a property as the deposit and mortgage. In these times of skyrocketing property prices, helping their struggling millennial children to get on the property ladder is now so necessary that banks are offering loans and mortgages specifically aimed at parents helping their children to buy.
A 50:50 split will rarely be fair, which is why it’s important to think ahead and imagine the worst when signing any legal document. No one wants to imagine that the person they’re in love with — and building a life with — is going to turn around and try to take what isn’t there’s, but that’s what is necessary. Even in the most amicable of splits, having a cohabitation agreement that’s been properly laid out by a divorce lawyer in London or your nearest city will save both of you the headache of trying to work out how to split the mortgage repayments, now you’re no longer under the same roof.
Don’t risk becoming a cautionary tale to unmarried couples, like the woman whose ex-partner she’d split from 17 years previously claimed 50 percent of her property, despite not having paid the deposit or the mortgage. It will give you both peace of mind to make sure you understand the legal ins and outs before signing, clearly laying out a legal document regarding all the property details.
Maintenance Payments? Don’t Expect Them Without a Marriage License
This is one that can be especially pertinent if you’re a same-sex couple who’ve been cohabiting without either a civil partnership or a marriage license. If you’ve been together since before same-sex marriage was legalised in 2014, it can be tempting to forego the formality. Irregardless of whether you’re a heterosexual or same-sex couple, living together as an unmarried couple without a cohabitation agreement is unwise if one of you is the breadwinner. In the event of a split, you could be left with a bare CV and nothing in the bank.
Maintenance payments are only legally enforceable if there are natural born children to support. Although, even then, it can often be harder to fully enforce than if you’re married. An official marriage, and a divorce that’s been through the courts and set out clear and legally binding rules like child support and maintenance allowance makes everything simpler. Without these, you could find yourself struggling to manage for yourself and any children you and your ex-partner have had together. Cohabitation agreements drawn up by a Legal 500 family lawyer can end up quite literally keeping the roof over your head.
Think About the Children — Whether They’re Yours, or Someone Else’s
A common reason for not marrying is that you’ve already been through it once and things didn’t go to plan. “Once bitten, twice shy” — and there are many reasons for not tying the knot a second time other than the cost of a wedding itself. Remarrying can cause a loss in maintenance payments, child support, debt repayment issues, inheritance issues and numerous other complications. When you’re later on in life, chances are you already possess a lot of baggage to bring to a relationship like children, debt and assets.
By all means, choose not to marry. However, don’t choose to forego the legal steps to securing your relationship against anything that might happen. If you’re moving in with a partner who has children from an existing relationship, or vice versa, consider whether you want to take on legal guardianship. Provided you can prove that you’re in an existing, enduring relationship, you don’t have to be legally married to adopt your partner’s children.
Going through the formalities of legal adoption means that in the event that something tragic happens, such as the death of your partner, you will still have parental responsibilities and the legal rights of a natural born parent. Don’t risk losing both your partner and the child or children you’ve come to consider as your own.
When putting together a cohabitation agreement with your Legal 500 family lawyer, take into consideration your legal adoption of your partner’s children. Make sure you also legally receive the assets that in the event of death would pass automatically to a spouse, but not to a cohabiting partner.
Your decisions not to marry are personal to you and your partner, but personal emotions and decisions don’t come into the court of law. Make sure that not only the roof you’re moving in under is sound, but also the legal documentation. There’s a time and a place for rose-tinted love glasses, but anything that can change your life permanently isn’t it. Take care of the small print first, then the decisions you can both enjoy, like home viewings and decisions about colour patterns, carpets and kitchens, can be enjoyed with peace of mind. You’ll both find it easier to sleep at night in your new bed, knowing that you won’t be left out in the cold. Hopefully, it will be the first of many happy homes you have together as a couple.