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Marriage rates have been declining for many years now; with less societal pressure on couples to marry, many are choosing simply to cohabit and spend their money on a deposit for a home, their children or simply on enjoying a higher standard of living.

Meanwhile, family units are becoming more complex. Couples who have divorced may each have a new spouse or partner, children from previous marriages, in addition to new children brought to the relationship by their current spouse or partner.

All in all, family units are becoming more varied and complex – but sadly, the law is not keeping up with modern families.

That’s why Attwaters Jameson Hill is here.

Achieving peace of mind for you and your family

At Attwaters Jameson Hill, we understand that the law is woefully outdated when it comes to catering for today’s couples and families.

We’re here to help you put legal protections in place to ensure that your rights and responsibilities are recognised and respected if the worst were to happen.

But, in order to understand why these protections are so necessary, it is first important to understand how unmarried couples’ legal rights differ to those of their married counterparts.

Unmarried couples

Contrary to popular belief, common law marriage (i.e., living together with a long-term partner and presenting to society as a marriage couple) is not recognised in England and Wales. If you are not married or in a civil partnership, you do not have the same legal rights as your married counterparts. This can come as a serious shock if a partner dies unexpectedly or the couple separates.

If you are unmarried:

  • You will not have any right to inherit your partner’s money, property or possessions if they die without leaving a Will. Their estate will likely be passed on to their parents, children or other relatives.
  • You have no legal right to a share in your partner’s money, property or possessions if you separate. If the property you live in is owned in your partner’s sole name, you will have no right to continue living in the property unless you can prove to a court that you have a ‘beneficial interest’ – i.e., you have contributed financially towards the property in some way.
  • You will not be able to claim spousal maintenance from your partner upon separation, but you may be able to claim child support if you share children together.
  • If you do share children, the father will only have parental responsibility if he is named on the birth certificate.

Whilst there are legal mechanisms through which unmarried partners can make a claim on their deceased or ex-partner’s finances, these are often long, arduous and costly processes where a positive outcome is by no means guaranteed.

Living Together Agreements

A Living Together Agreement (or Cohabitation Agreement) is a document which allows an unmarried couple to set out their financial rights and responsibilities towards one another. It can include:

  • Who owns the property you live in
  • If you have bought a home together, what deposit you both paid
  • The share of the rent/mortgage and bills you will each pay
  • The percentage of the property you are each entitled to if your relationship ends
  • How your assets will be divided if you were to split up
  • Who is responsible for any debts
  • Next of kin rights in a medical emergency
  • Any insurance policies such as a life insurance policy.

This document is only legally binding if it is properly written and executed as a deed. At Attwaters Jameson Hill, our Family Law team is on hand to help you draw up a comprehensive, legally binding Living Together Agreement to enable you to enjoy your lives together with complete peace of mind.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our expert solicitors on 0330 221 8855 or email familylaw@attwaters.co.uk.

Wills

As a full-service law firm, we also work seamlessly with our colleagues in other departments to ensure you have access to all the legal support you need to protect yourself against all eventualities. Our Wills and Probate team is here to help you draw up a carefully drafted Will that reflects your wishes for who you would like to inherit your assets upon your death.

Please remember that a Will is the only way for unmarried couples to ensure that their partner will be able to inherit their estate.

Blended families

A well-written Will is also a vital tool in your legal arsenal if you have a more complicated family setup. For example, it is becoming heartbreakingly common for children from a previous marriage to be disinherited by a step-parent after their parent’s death, or for current partners to be missed out of an inheritance in favour of an estranged husband or wife. A valid Will could help prevent a lot of conflict, stress and heartache for family members left behind.

To see how our Wills and Probate team can help, please click here to find out more about their services and to get in touch.

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