The legal rights you have as a partner depend largely on whether you are married, have entered into a civil partnership or whether you are simply living together without a legal or formal declaration of your partnership. In the latter case, you have fewer rights. Here is a guide about what you can expect and the steps you can take to protect yourself if your cohabiting partnership should come to an unexpected end.
If you cohabit with your partner and do not have your name on the tenancy of your rented property, then you have no rights to remain there if your partner asks you to leave. To protect yourself form this happening, it’s wise to be confirmed as ‘joint tenants’ on the rental contract. This gives both parties the same rights and responsibilities. Some landlords insist that cohabiting couples do this to prevent uncertainty and tension further down the line.
However, you can, as a cohabiting partner, also apply to a court for short-term rights to stay in your home to allow you time to reconsider your options. You can also apply to have a sole tenancy transferred to a joint one. You may also have different rights if your partnership break up has been caused by domestic violence.
Children and dependents
More and more children are being raised now by parents who choose to cohabit for all kinds of reasons. Regardless of marital status, however, each parent who has parental responsibility is equally responsible for the child in terms of residential arrangements, finances, healthcare, schooling and other key decisions. If you want to retain a permanent say in your children’s lives therefore, it is very important that you are named as their legal parent as soon as possible after their birth.
If you separate from either a cohabiting arrangement or a formalised marriage or civil partnership, you will need to work out a formal agreement regarding where your child or children will live and how often they will see the non-residential parent and their wider family. All major decisions. should still be made jointly by both legal parents wherever possible, with both parents acting in the best interests of the child, rather than prioritising their own wishes or motivations. A solicitor or court can help set arrangements in place if the parting couple feel unable or unwilling to do so alone.
Financially, both legal parents retain responsibility for paying for their child and, again, a formal maintenance agreement should be in place as soon as a cohabiting couple decides to part ways. It is a good idea in fact, to set up an agreement even if you are not planning to separate so that all parties know where they stand from the beginning and exactly what is expected of them. If both members of a same-sex couple are named as their children’s legal parents, then they will fall under this financial obligation too.
If you and your partner live together and each retain a separate bank account, you will have no legal right or access to the money held in your partner’s separate account. Many couples prefer to keep finances independent from each other, while others prefer to combine their finances and open a joint bank account. Such an account gives both cohabiting partners full access to the funds contained within it
and can make paying joint bills, pooling incomes and planning budgets much more straightforward.
Should you and your cohabiting partner break up, on the other hand, each having a separate bank account simplifies matters in the shorter term. Both of you can leave the partnership with your own bank account and funds intact. If you do have a joint account and decide to split, it is well worth considering switching to two separate ones as soon as possible after the relationship ends. If you carry on indefinitely with the joint account and your former partner runs up an overdraft or debts, this will be your joint responsibility to clear, even if you do not know where your former partner is living now.
The final curtain
Death comes to us all and the loss of a cohabiting partner is no less devastating than losing a spouse or civil partner. It is important to discuss death with your partner and to let them know your wishes with regards to funeral arrangements, care of any dependents, the contents of your Will and any individual bequests you may wish to make to other family members or friends.
Financially speaking, while married couples automatically inherit each their spouse’s estate and do not have to pay inheritance tax on any of it, if you die without making a Will that names a cohabiting partner, they will inherit nothing, unless you owned any joint property between you. Any inheritance that a cohabiting person does receive from the Will of their late partner will also be liable for inheritance tax.