Published: 14 April 2017
After a recent survey by YouGov, it has been revealed that cohabiting couples fear ‘unfair’ settlements should their relationship breakdown, and want changes to the law that would see them granted the same rights as married couples.
Recent ONS figures show that between 1996 and 2016, the number of cohabiting couples doubled from 1.5 million to 3.3 million, becoming the fastest growing family type in the UK (making up 17.5% of all families).
The reality regarding cohabiting couples is that they do not have the same rights as married couples, meaning that – should they become separated – they are unprotected in relation to property ownership and maintenance payments.
YouGov surveyed more than 1,000 cohabiting couples in the UK with the aim of highlighting the need for a change regarding cohabitation law. 75% of couples surveyed believed that couples who live together but are not married should indeed have the same legal rights as married couples. The survey also found that 35% of cohabiting couples thought that they already had the same rights as married couples, or that they didn’t know either way.
The study highlights the distinct lack of knowledge surrounding cohabitation and alternative measures that can be taken by cohabiting couples. It was discovered that 76% of those surveyed had never heard of a cohabitation agreement, a legally binding wealth protection measure. Of those that were aware of this measure, only 10% had such an agreement in place, and only 2% of people surveyed had a cohabitation agreement in place.
The study also contained some more specific questions on property related topics. It was found that 35% of cohabiting couples were not aware that if they are joint tenants of their property then the value of their home will usually be split 50:50, even if one person contributed more towards it than the other. This is a worry for cohabiting couples as only half of those surveyed contributed equally to the deposit of their home, despite being joint tenants. Furthermore, only 42% of couples made equal contributions to the monthly payments on their mortgage.
It also became clear that only 14% of respondents bought their home as tenants in common, despite this being an easy way of specifying who owns what percentage of the property, and thus avoiding potential disputes in future. 60% of those surveyed did not know that, despite what their will says, the share of a joint tenant will be automatically passed to the surviving cohabitee. The study also revealed that when looking to purchase their home, only 33% of couples were given professional advice, despite the potential implications of the different property ownership structures.
In December 2014, the Cohabitation Rights Bill was read for the second time in the House of Lords. Since this time, there has been no further progress on getting the bill passed, and although the Bill has now been reintroduced and is due to have a renewed second reading at some point, there are currently no new laws on the horizon that will offer protection to cohabiting couples.
If you are unmarried and living with your partner and you are concerned about your legal position and rights then K J Smith Solicitors can help. Our team are experienced in drawing up cohabitation agreements which are designed to help protect you and your family should the worst happen.
For more information or to discuss your circumstances with a member of our team, please contact K J Smith Solicitors today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames),020 7070 0330 (London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading),01753 325000 (Windsor), 01256 584000 (Basingstoke) 01483 370100 (Guildford) or 01494 629000 (Beaconsfield).