Cohabiting couples warned to protect their property rightsThe courts now look upon your rights in a different way,
its fairly long but worth the read.
Lawyers are warning cohabiting couples to spell out in writing what share of their home each should get if they split up, to avoid expensive legal battles consuming a large chunk of their wealth. The advice comes after a landmark judgment last week by five law lords, setting out how the courts should resolve such cases.
The case established new law when the court ruled for the first time that where an unmarried couple buy their home in joint names, the presumption is that they own it in equal shares.
But after a 20-year relationship and four children, Barry Stack, 51, was left with only 35% of the £750,000 proceeds from the north London semi he shared with Dehra Dowden, and a bill of well over £100,000 for legal costs. Ms Dowden, 48, managed to convince the law lords that although the couple had bought their home in Willesden in joint names, the presumption should not apply. She was held to be entitled to 65% because she had contributed most of the deposit and mortgage payments and the couple had kept their finances separate.
The judgment from Britain's highest court highlights how differently the courts treat divorcing couples and unmarried partners who split up. On divorce the courts have wide powers to redistribute property regardless of ownership, and the homemaker's contribution is valued as highly as the breadwinner's.
But where a cohabiting couple live in a home in only one partner's name, the law lords said, the presumption or starting point is that the other partner is not entitled to a share at all.
Although more than 2 million unmarried couples live together in Britain, research shows that most are unaware of their limited legal rights if the relationship ends. Many wrongly believe they would have the same rights as they would if they were divorcing.
William Selby Lowndes, of the law firm Darbys, urged unmarried couples to draw up a trust deed or cohabitation agreement spelling out property shares when they move in together. "This may be very difficult advice for the love-struck couple who think nothing will ever go wrong, but by having one they can potentially save thousands of pounds and huge amounts of grief and bitterness if the relationship breaks down."
The case will increase pressure on the government to legislate to allow cohabitees in England and Wales to make property and financial claims against each other when the relationship finishes. Those in Scotland have had a package of rights since May 2006.
The government has referred the issue to the Law Commission, which provisionally recommended last year that cohabitees should have the right to apply for a share of a partner's money, property or pension. The right to apply would not be automatic, as it is on divorce, but would be available if one partner suffered a significant economic disadvantage, or the other gained a significant advantage, from the relationship.
The commission's final proposals are expected next August and ministers have already signalled that they hope to legislate.
David Allison, chairman of the cohabitation committee of the family law solicitors' association, Resolution, called for the reform to be introduced soon. "Six out of 10 cohabiting couples mistakenly believe they have rights as 'common law husband and wife'. In reality they have few rights. People's disputes either go unresolved or they end up spending most of their resources going to court. Urgent reform to the law is needed to end the enormous vulnerability of all live-together couples."
So you have been warned.