Wanting to live with someone and not have the commitment of marriage is an option which many people choose. But what are the financial consequences if you split up? Justine Flack, Family Law Solicitor at Howes Percival, answers a common question.
My boyfriend and I are about to buy our first house and move in together. If we split up, will I have the same rights as I would if I had married him?
No. The position in law for people who live together is very different from the situation for those who get married, even if the couple have children.
Unlike married couples, the law does not give specific protection to those who cohabit. For example, your rights in the house will be determined by the laws of property, and not by what might seem fair in your individual circumstances, or because you need to provide for your children.
This point has been reinforced in a recent case, where a couple bought a house in joint names and lived together for eight years. They had two children before the relationship ended and the man moved out. The woman stayed in the house, paid the mortgage and bills, and brought up the children, all without financial contribution from the man. Thirteen years later, he asked for his half share of the equity.
The Court of Appeal has recently stated that he was entitled to 50%, notwithstanding his behaviour and lack of contributions. His conduct and what was 'fair and just' was not relevant. The house was in their joint names, so they shared the money from it equally.
This shows how important it is to think about where you would stand if your relationship were to break down. A Living Together Agreement is an ideal way of doing this. Within it, you can detail what will happen to the house; who should stay in it; who should pay the bills; and whether this would affect the value of the share which you have in it. The shares which you have in the property can be set out, recording whether one person has paid more towards the purchase price, and therefore should receive more because of this. The agreement can be reviewed to take account of changing circumstances, and might therefore have altered the outcome for the woman in the recent case.
A Living Together Agreement which is properly prepared can save a lot of heartache later and be far more cost effective than acrimonious Court proceedings. It allows you to achieve what you consider to be a 'fair and just' outcome, rather than being at the mercy of the Court.