MacNairs + Wilson

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Do you know your rights in co-habitation?

A third of couples who live together believe that they were entitled to the same rights as married couples, or were unaware of their rights.

A survey conducted by YouGov has revealed shocking figures revealing how unaware cohabiting couples are of their rights compared to their married counterparts.  The survey was conducted in order to highlight the need for change in legislation to protect cohabitants in the event of a breakdown in their relationship. A mere 14% of cohabitants who were surveyed purchased their home as tenants in common.

Rights of Cohabiting Couples

A new survey has revealed that couples who are living as cohabitants are looking for a change in the law, to make sure that they are awarded the same legal rights as couples who are married, in order to make sure that ‘unfair’ settlements after the breakdown of a relationship are a thing of the past.

The survey conducted by YouGov.  asked more than 1,000 couples living as cohabitants across the UK their opinions on existing legislation, in a bid to highlight the need for legislative change.

Three quarters of the couples who were surveyed said that they believed that unmarried couples who live together should be afforded the same legal rights as married couples.

The study also found that over a third of those who were surveyed that are living together as cohabitants either believed that they had the same rights that married couples have, or they did not know what rights they had.  In reality, cohabiting couples are not afforded the same legal protection that married coupled have when it comes to things such as maintenance payments and property ownership.

Cohabiting couples are now the fastest growing family type in the UK, and the rise looks set to continue.  ONS figures show that in 1996 1.5 million families in the UK were cohabiting couples, a figure which has more than doubled to 3.3 million in 2016.  This figure accounts for a staggering 17.5% of families in the UK, a number which is set to rise.

The study also found that there is a disturbing lack of awareness of wealth protection measures like cohabitation agreements.  These agreements are legally binding, and offer protection to both parties in the event of a breakup.  Of those who were surveyed, under a quarter had heard of cohabitation agreements, and of this number only 10% of these had a cohabitation agreement in place.  This meant that only 2% of those who were surveyed had a cohabitation agreement set up.

To add to this, over a third of couples who were living as cohabitants were not aware that if they owned their property beneficially as joint tenants, that the value of the home is split 50:50, regardless of how much each partner has contributed to payments towards it.  This is an alarming figure, particularly when it is coupled with the fact that only half of those who were surveyed that own their own home had contributed equal amounts towards their deposit.  Only 42 % of those surveyed were making equal monthly payments to their mortgages.

Owning a property as tenants in common is a way for couples to safeguard themselves in the event of a breakup.  Tenants in common can clearly specify which percentage of the house each party owns, and it prevents lengthy and potentially expensive disputes in the event of the breakdown of a relationship.  Despite this, only 14% of those surveyed who had purchased a home had done so as tenants in common. 

On top of this, an alarming number of those surveyed were unaware of the implication that being beneficial joint tenants creates.  Over 60% of those who were surveyed did not know that if they were beneficial joint tenants that their share of the house passes automatically to the surviving cohabitee, despite what they have written in their will.

Although there are massive differences in the implications of the different property ownership structures available, the survey once again found a huge lack of awareness in this area, revealing that only a third of respondents had been given professional guidance on the different ownership structures that were available to them when buying their more recent home.

The Cohabitation Rights Bill was given its second reading in the House of Lords at the end of 2014.  Since then, however, there has been very little progress.  The bill has now been reintroduced and is awaiting a renewed second reading date to be announced.  Despite this, it is unlikely that there is a realistic prospect of new legislation being created to help offer protection to couples living as cohabitants.

The current law governing cohabitation, allows for the situation where if a relationship comes to an end, one partner who contributed significantly more than the other to a deposit, the monthly mortgage repayments and bills, must give 50 per cent of the property to the other party. It is entirely just as plausible that there will be one partner who does not have their name on the legal documentation, but have still provided substantial financial contributions to the property, as well as non-financial contributions including looking after children, saying that someone in this situation will often end up with nothing.

If you are concerned about cohabition issues contact our family law team for advice and assistance.

Contact our Family Lawyers in Glasgow, Paisley, Scotland

For expert family lawyers in Scotland, contact Macnairs + Wilson today at our Paisley office on 0141 887 5181, or our Glasgow office on 0141 551 8185. 

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