Newry Junior Chamber member Damien McCrink from Luke Curran & Co Solicitors offers advice and guidance on cohabiting. The Office for National Statistics reported in November 2016 that cohabiting couple families have been the fastest growing family type in the UK over the last decade from 1996 to 2016. During this time, the number of cohabiting couple families has more than doubled from 1.5 million to 3.3 million. But how does such a relationship impact upon the legal rights and responsibilities of each cohabiting partner in the event of a break-up or the death of one partner?
Denise Brewster & Pension Reform Case
The recent Denise Brewster case is a significant ruling which champions the rights of unmarried couples and advocates that these relationships should be given the same status as married couples. How soon this will fully happen in practice remains to be seen.
The Northern Ireland woman from Coleraine, Derry had lived with her partner, Lenny McMullan for 10 years at the time of his death on Boxing Day 2009. The couple had just got engaged on Christmas Eve. Ms Brewster was refused payments from her partner’s pension as McMullan had neglected to complete a form to nominate that his pension could be transferred to his common law partner in the event of his death. Following a long legal battle, Ms Brewster finally won her case in the UK’s Supreme Court, thus entitling her to receive payments from the former Translink employee’s public sector pension. This has put the rights of cohabiting couples firmly in the spotlight.
Factors to Consider if You Are Co-habiting
If you are a cohabiting, there are steps you should take to avoid ending up in a difficult financial situation or a long court battle. At Luke Curran & Co. Solicitors, the first step we’d recommend is that you seek professional legal advice so that you are fully aware of the financial implications of cohabiting, and how best to protect yourself, and your partner. Think ahead, plan ahead and take action.
Property Ownership or Rental Agreements
The action required will depend on your situation i.e. if you a homeowner/joint home owner or perhaps renting. Based on your situation, you should consider which of these legal safety nets would work best for you:
- A Declaration of Trust – this is a document which details who the owners of the property are and how much each is entitled to if the house is later sold. This is particularly relevant for cohabiting couples who purchase a house together, or indeed for family members or friends of one of the cohabitants who provide a loan towards the costs of purchasing the property.
- Tenants in Common – an alternative to a Declaration of Trust is to register both partners as owners of the property, referred to as ‘Tenants in Common’. In this scenario each owns a share of the property which can be equal amounts, or a defined percentage. This is a good way for individuals who are cohabiting to protect their share of the investment into the home, particularly if one partner is contributing significantly more than the other.
- Joint Tenancy Agreement - if you are living with your partner in a rental property, it is advisable to have a Joint Tenancy Agreement which will list both names. This means that each individual named in the agreement will have the same rights and responsibilities. The same process applies to groups of friends cohabiting.
Once you are living in the property as an unmarried couple, it is advisable to put a cohabitation agreement in place. This will address many other aspects of couples’ lives that are typically intertwined, including everything from their bank accounts, insurances, pensions and wills, to their responsibilities relating to the welfare of children in their care. It can also include details regarding ownership of the furniture within your shared home, who is responsible for paying which household bills, and in the event of a break-up, even who gets the dog!
Some items to consider to get your cohabitation agreement in order include the following:
1. Be named as joint owners on bank accounts
2. Apply to Court for Parental Responsibility for children
3. Register each other as nominees in Credit accounts and Pension Policies to ensure your share is passed on to your partner in the event of your death
4. Make a Will to ensure assets transfer accordingly on death as opposed to the rules of intestacy
5. Register your partner as beneficiary on life insurance policies
Of course, getting married or forming a legal Civil Partnership may also be an option for some cohabiting couples – or perhaps not you may say! As attitudes to marriage and parenthood have changed significantly, the law now has to change also to ensure that this growing band of unmarried couples are afforded a reasonable level of protection. But, it is in your best interests to take the relevant steps to protect yourself and your partner by putting the necessary documentation in place prior to cohabiting, or as soon as possible after, rather than relying on a court to make a decision further down the line.
If you’d like to arrange an appointment to discuss your options, feel free to contact us at: