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Property ownership for cohabitees – common myths

For Love or Money

I return to the subject of property ownership for cohabitees having blogged about it some time ago because of the number of people to whom I speak who still have a serious misconception about their legal rights in property when they are cohabiting rather than married. The message is slow to get out there, but it is a very important message.

Disregard entirely the law relating to marital breakdown
The following are the principal misconceptions many people hold and need to be corrected:

  1. There is no legal concept in English law of a common law man and wife. It does not matter how long you have lived together or put up with each other through thick and thin – it will not mean that you will acquire any more legal rights – so sorry to those ladies out there who have spent years washing the other half’s socks – all that scrubbing will not count a jot.
  2. If the house that you share is bought in one party’s name only, you will not acquire an interest in the property if you simply pay the utility bills or do some decorating around the house and mow the lawn occasionally.
  3. If the house is bought in joint names this does not necessarily mean an equal division – it depends on how you bought the house. A key question here is are you tenants in For Love or Moneycommon or joint tenants?
  4. If one party contributes more to the purchase of the property than the other but it goes into joint names as joint tenants then you are not entitled to claim back the money you initially invested first and then split the equity equally. This means you may lose your initial deposit. This often comes as a big shock to one or both of the parties.
  5. If there are children of the relationship, this does not necessarily mean that the primary carer gets to stay in the house.
  6. It is not correct that maintenance can be claimed as of right from the other party, apart from child maintenance.
  7. It is not correct that a partner has a claim over any other assets of the other, unless those assets are in joint names or a direct financial contribution has been made.
  8. It is not true that if one partner dies the other automatically inherits, unless the deceased has made a Will naming them as a beneficiary. In the absence of a Will and under the rules of intestacy the surviving partner is not recognised as one of the categories of beneficiaries (although they may be able to make a claim under inheritance laws).
  9. Finally, disregard entirely the law relating to marital breakdown. There is no concept that everything you have is put into the pot to be divided using the principles of fairness and need (as is the case for married couples).

Take action just in case the rot sets in
This no doubt all sounds pretty grim to those of you who are living in a property with your other half which is in their name. You may have children and be the main carer and only work part time. If they decide the grass is greener and it’s time to install a newer model into the house where do you go and what do you do? Read my next blog to find out what you can do before the rot sets in and what happens when it does.

For more information please contact Sarah Martin, Family Law & Divorce Solicitor 

Disclaimer: While we do all that is possible in terms of ensuring its accuracy, this blog contains general information only. Nothing in these pages constitutes legal advice. You need to consult a suitably qualified lawyer from the firm on any specific legal problem or matter.

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