Local legal experts discuss the status of homes, ownership and relationships

Local legal experts discuss the status of homes, ownership and relationships

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Not so many years ago, two people would meet, fall in love, get marriedand share a home. Now it is much more likely that couples will live together before getting married, or indeed just live together happily and never get married at all.

But what happens when the relationship breaks down? So many people still believe that by living together, they become ‘common law’ husband and wife - whereas in fact there is no such legal status - and their financial interest in the property is therefore protected. They couldn’t bemore wrong.

Cohabiting couples can, and should, sign up to a Living Together Agreement. By doing so they will protect their interest in a property and ensure they have provided adequately for the potentially difficult circumstances that arise in the event of a relationship breakdown.

And it’s not just cohabiting couples who should get a Living TogetherAgreement. Many young people wanting to get onto the bottom rung of the property-owning ladder are turning to their parents to help them out.

But blood is not always thicker than water when families fall out, so the only way to ensure that property is held as you intend is to make sure you enter into an express declaration of trust in a Living Together  Agreement. This can be entered into not just when you buy aproperty but also afterwards, so there’s no excuse not to do it.

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Even if you are the sole owner of a property, you need to be aware of thelaw and the possibility that someone with whom you have shared a home and then fallen out with may be able to make a claim to some of your equity.

And just as you should review your will on a regular basis, you should review your Living Together Agreement in the same way – circumstances often change over the years.

And remember, if you’re living together unmarried and haven’t made awill, your estate will pass to your closest blood relative – not your partner.

Lorraine Harvey, Family Law Partner at Russell Jones & Walker on 0161 383 3650 or L.Harvey@rjw.co.ukRussell Jones & Walker1st Floor, St James’ House,7 Charlotte Street,Manchester M1 4DZwww.rjw.co.uk/family

Solicitors’ comments...

The misconceptions that people have as to their legal rights when simply living together, whether in a relationship or not, are truly worrying. Most experienced solicitors in this field have had to advise clients, at some time, regarding the myth of the ‘common law marriage’ or the notion that cohabiting together for seven years or more confers property rights or rights of occupation on the non-owning party.

In these ever more litigious times, it is important to regulate your relationships and protect your interests as never before. It is also important to review and revise documents oragreements in the light of changing circumstances, particularly upon the arrival of children.

Advice from suitably experienced and qualified solicitors is a necessity to ensure compliance with the formalities and an end result which is satisfactory to all.

Geoff Cogan, Senior Solicitor, Storrar Cowdry Solicitors, India House, 21 Castle Street, Chester, CH1 2DS. 01244400567. Email: geoff.cogan@storrarcowdry.co.uk

As highlighted, English law does not recognise the concept of ‘common law’ spouses. Unlike divorcing couples, cohabitants cannot invoke the flexible and discretionary provisions of family law to determine the extent of their claims when relationships break down.

This is a complex area of law so it’s important to consult a specialist solicitor who can advise on the terms of a Living Together (‘Cohabitation’) Agreement or your rights following separation.

Phillip Rhodes, Senior Associate Pannone LLP, 123 Deansgate,Manchester, M3 2BUTel: 0161 909 4869phillip.rhodes@pannone.co.uk

The most frequent question I am probably asked is ‘What rights do socalled “common law” couples have?’

Current legislation may seem unfair and out-dated by not recognising a cohabiting relationship but unfortunately this is the case until any future change in the law. So make sure you obtain legal advice, ideally before living with someone, in order to know exactly how the law will apply to your particular circumstances. Forewarned is forearmed as they say!

Janet Baines, Partner Family and Divorce Department, Walker Smith Way Solicitors jbaines@walkersmithway.com. Tel 0844 346 3147www.walkersmithway.com

In the same way that there is a natural resistance by marrying couples to prenuptial agreements, so too do many cohabiting couples resist formalising their financial arrangements. This is a mistake, particularly where there are unequal contributions to a property or properties. As there is little or no law available to adjust unfair outcomes it isimperative that couples ensure they achieve what they intended by documenting matters at the outset.

Emma Collins, Partner, Weightmans LLP, 0161 233 7330 emma.colins@weightmans.com www.weightmans.comEmma is also a member of theResolution Cohabitation Committee.

Couples who plan to live together and want to enter into a cohabitation agreement can consider doing so using the collaborative law process. Both will have specially trained collaborative lawyers and each receives advice and guidance, and together with their lawyers discuss and resolve issues through face-to-face meetings. The process avoids  correspondence between lawyers and enables matters to be dealt with at the couple’s own pace.

Denise Woodward, Partner Collaborative Family Lawyer and MediatorCullimore Dutton, 20 White Friars,Chester CH1 1XSTel: 01244 356789denise.woodward@cullimoredutton.co.ukwww.collabfamilylawcheshire.org.uk

People don’t always understand their rights when they move in together and they don’t think about what would happen on separation. Misconceptions about the law can lead to harsh results: whether you legally own the property or not. You should ensure that you understand your legal position when you move in your partner. Properly recording your intentions at the outset, and if your circumstances change, will avoid the expense and uncertainty of adispute arising in the future.

Sue BrookesFor more information, contact mesue.brookes@mills-reeve.com,DDI 0161 235 5423,www.divorce.co.uk