Despite popular belief, there is no such thing in the UK as “common law marriage”. If you and your partner are living together you have considerably less rights than couples who are married or who have formed a civil partnership. If everything is going well in your relationship the differences won’t be noticeable but if one of you dies or you split up that’s when the problems will set in unless you take steps to protect yourself and your family.
If you’re an unmarried father, make sure you are registered with the mother as the child’s father on its birth certificate otherwise you will not automatically get Parental Responsibility (PR). Without PR you will have no say in decisions such as where the child lives, their education, religion or medical treatment. If you are not named on the birth certificate you could make a PR agreement with the mum’s consent or apply for a court order.
If you rent your home put the tenancy in both your names because if the tenancy is only in your ex-partner’s name, you have no automatic right to stay if he/she tells you to go or leaves you.
Similarly, if you live in a home which is only in your partner’s name, you will have no choice but to go if told to by your ex, unless there is some legally recognisably agreement in place. If you move in with a home-owner and want more security, you could set out in the form of a declaration of trust the original ownership details and the way you both want it treated in the future.
If you plan to buy together you can do so as:
Some pension schemes won’t give pensions or death-in-service payments to unmarried partners, although this is becoming more common. Make sure that you and your partner name each other as the person you want to benefit from the policy.
Life insurance policies are a good way for cohabitants to protect each other's interests as you can write it 'in trust' and nominate the person you would like to benefit when you die. This is particularly advantageous because the proceeds of the life policy are not counted as part of the assets on which you pay Inheritance Tax.
If you and your cohabitee have separate bank accounts, you can’t access the money held in the other's account. If one of you dies, any cash in the account will become part of the estate and will be handed out according to the stipulations in the will or go to your partners relatives if there is no will.
You both have rights of access to joint account money, and if one of you dies, the cash in the account goes automatically to the survivor.
If you are unmarried and you split up, your ex is entitled to everything they amassed with their own money. Where you bought things together but each chipped in different amounts, you own it in the shares in which you contributed. If you are happy with that state of play, that’s fine, but if you both feel the split should be different if the relationship falls apart, set out the way you would like your things to be divided in a living together agreement.
Unlike married couples or civil partners, cohabitants do not enjoy tax exemptions for Capital Gains Tax and Inheritance Tax. However, there are ways of arranging your assets in such a way (with the use of trusts, for example) that you will pay less of these taxes than you ordinarily would. Get specialist advice from a solicitor or accountant to sort this out for you.
If you are taken ill and have to go to hospital, there is no legal right for your unmarried partner to be consulted and kept informed. Although most hospitals will bend the rules on this one, have a document drawn up stating that you would wish your partner to be consulted and involved.
If you don’t make a will all your property and assets will pass automatically to your closest blood relations and your partner could be left with nothing.
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