Sunday 17 February 2013

Reasons to Get Married

Moving in Together? Remember cohabiting hasn't given couples any legal rights since 1753. The Times on "no-nups".

Mark Atherton
February 15 2013

Millions of couples celebrated Valentine’s Day this week, splashing out on greetings cards, champagne and red roses. But as their attention switches from the romance of candlelit dinners to the possibility of moving in together, they should not ignore the more prosaic questions, such as what happens if they split up or one partner dies.

A recent Court of Appeal decision offered a grim reminder to all nonmarried couples that they have no automatic entitlement to any part of their partner’s property or possessions if they split up, even if they have lived together for many years.

In the Collins v Curran case the judges ruled that Pamela Curran had no right to a share in the home in which she and her partner had lived for 30 years, nor to a share in her partner’s business, where she had worked alongside him.

As Michael Gouriet and Henry Stuart, partners at Withers solicitors, point out, the weaknesses in the law relating to cohabiting couples make it all the more necessary to plan things before you move in together... Times Money has ten tips to offer to cohabiting couples.

1 Record in writing each partner’s financial contributions that are made towards any property purchase and your respective ownership shares (especially where this is not 50/50).

2 Make wills, so that each partner’s wishes upon death are clear. This is especially important with unmarried couples because the surviving partner has no automatic right to any property and will inherit nothing if his or her partner dies without making a will. Instead, the partner’s estate would go to members of his or her family.

3 Where a cohabiting couple own property together they need to decide whether to hold it as joint tenants or tenants in common. With joint tenancy the deceased person’s share passes automatically to the co-owner. The alternative of tenancy in common allows each partner to nominate whomever they want to inherit their share of the property. This option might lead to a forced sale of the property if the nominee insists on it.

4 Make a “living together” agreement covering property and money matters, stating who owns what and who pays what. This would cover who pays what share of the mortgage, insurance and utility bills.

5 Extend the living together agreement to cover other elements, such as who owns the car and who owns house contents, such as such as furniture and appliances. Ideally, say Messrs Gouriet and Stuart, any agreement should include an option to buy out the other’s interest if they split up.
They add: “In particular, avoid casual pillow talk such as ‘what’s mine is yours, darling’. Cases have been known to turn on tender exchanges of words in courtship which assume an unforeseen significance many years later.”

6 If one partner has no intention of sharing ownership of the property, it is a good idea to make this clear, in writing, from the start. Otherwise the other partner could gain the impression that, by contributing to the running of the property, he or she had effectively acquired a financial stake in it. This is particularly important where major improvements such as building a conservatory are involved.

7 An extension of this idea is the so-called no-nup, or cohabitation agreement, which basically means that one partner, usually the wealthier one, seeks to ensure that any wealth he or she brings into a relationship stays under his or her control. Seddons, the West End firm of solicitors, says there has been a sharp increase in no-nups in recent years, often driven by wealthy parents’ desire to ensure that money given to their child is not frittered away by free-spending partners.

8 If renting, and the tenancy is in joint names, remember that each partner becomes responsible for the rent. This means that, if one party fails to pay, the landlord can ask the other to do so. Partners can agree among themselves the proportion of rent they will pay, but that does not affect the landlord’s right to demand the full rent from either of them.

9 The partners should specify, from the outset, who is to receive any deposit returned at the end of the tenancy. They should also remember that if a deposit is paid by one person, it will act as security for all liabilities under the tenancy, including any incurred by the other partner.

10 Be aware that living together for an extended period does not grant you any financial rights should your relationship come to an end. Messrs Gouriet and Stuart say: “Despite frequent assumptions to the contrary, there is no such thing as a common-law spouse under English law – and there hasn’t been since Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act in 1753. If you want legal rights you must be married or in a civil partnership.”

The full article is here. (£)

(It costs £85 to get married.)

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