Imagine that you and your partner live together for several years like a married couple, but without being married. Your partner owns the property you live in: they bought it many years ago in their name, and they pay the mortgage. You buy all the food and pay all the household bills, and the cost of this is about equal to your partner’s mortgage payments. In terms of outgoings, it is a 50/50 split.
If your relationship broke down and you separated, your partner would be entitled to keep the property, with the benefit of the mortgage payments they made. You would have little or no claim over it, even if your partner was only able to afford the mortgage because you paid for all the food and household bills.
So, how do I protect myself?
If you had been married or in a civil partnership (with the same arrangements as to mortgage payments and other household expenditure), the court (depending on circumstances) would have wider powers to redistribute the equity in the property (it being the family home) between you and your partner.
What about our children – surely that’s a 50/50 financial responsibility?
If you and your partner are unmarried when your child is born, the father only has parental responsibilities if he is named on the child’s birth certificate or enters into a formal agreement with the mother (this requires registration) or if the court orders it. If none of these apply, the mother could find herself solely responsible for meeting her child’s living costs on separation.
As a cohabite, you are not automatically protected by laws specific to relationship breakdown, in the way that spouses/civil partners are. However, you and your partner can create your own, legally binding agreement setting out how your finances (capital and income, assets and liabilities) are to be dealt with if you separated. This is known as a separation agreement, and enables you to claim many of the safeguards available to spouses/civil partners, whilst remaining as cohabitees. The agreement should be drafted by a solicitor and each of you should take legal advice independently of the other, so as to ensure it is enforceable.