Limitations of cohabitation
More and more couples in the UK are choosing cohabitation as an alternative to marriage or civil partnership, often to save money or test the water before getting married. It may not sound particularly romantic but there are several legal issues that need to be considered when you are moving in a partner without marrying them or entering into a civil partnership.
The biggest problem with cohabitation is that the law treats unmarried couples as separate individuals without any obligations to each other should their relationship end. If this happens an unmarried partner will have no right to anything held in the others name, and anything that is jointly will divided equally.
Anyone who is purchasing a property with their partner should carefully consider this and ensure that they are protected should the relationship break down. There are two ways in which a property can be jointly held by a cohabiting couple, under a joint tenancy or a tenancy in common.
With joint tenancies the couple owns the entire property together and it will automatically pass to the surviving partner should the other die, whereas with tenancies in common you both own distinct shares in the property which are held separately from each other and can be passed on or used to force a sale as their owner sees fit.
When a child’s parents are unmarried, even in cases of cohabitation, it is only the Mother who has any automatic right to parental responsibility. To get a share in the parental responsibility an unmarried father can register the birth along with the mother or they can enter into a parent responsibility agreement together.
A parent responsibility agreement will give the father an equal stake in the child’s upbringing and the right to be consulted about any major decisions regarding the child’s life. If a cohabiting couple splits up without one in place the mother will be able to raise where and however she sees fit unless the father is able to obtain a court order against her.
A parental responsibility agreement needs to be signed, witnessed and registered with the High Court family division before it is valid. You can get all the necessary forms from LawontheWeb’s DIY legal documents section.
Once it is registered the parental responsibility order will remain in place until the child or children reach 18 years of age, an application to cancel one can be made to the courts if there is an appropriate reason.
Another important issue to consider with cohabitation is that if one partner dies the other will not automatically inherit anything. This problem can easily be avoided by making a Will in favour of your partner. In some cases it may be possible to make a claim for reasonable provision from a deceased person’s estate, a probate solicitor will be able to give further advice on this or assist you with writing a legally valid Will.