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Divorce and family law explained 

Moving in together - what happens if things go wrong

There are so many issues which arise when a relationship ends, and it is often hard to keep on top of all the different decisions which will need to be made. The hardest part may be making the decision that the relationship is over – but the consequences of this will doubtless touch all aspects of your life. These days, more couples than ever are bringing assets such as properties with them into a relationship, but have no real idea what will happen if the relationship ends. These issues will affect same sex as well as heterosexual couples. At Woolley & Co, we encourage couples who are thinking of living together to consider what might happen if things go wrong, and to plan accordingly. This is best done by entering into a Living Together Agreement.

These are some of the questions that family lawyers at Woolley & Co are most commonly asked by people who are separating, or when problems arise –

What if my partner won’t leave our shared property?
If you have not entered into a living together agreement then much will depend on how the property is owned, or rented. If it is in joint names, then chances are that you won’t be able to force them to go easily in the short term. If things have deteriorated badly, and there is any aggression from your estranged partner, then this makes the situation very different – contact us straight away to discuss possible emergency remedies. However, if you have a living together agreement, this would state who will leave in the event of the relationship failing.

We’re not married – am I entitled to anything?
Many people now understand that there is no such thing as a “common law” spouse, and the laws protecting co-habiting couples are nowhere near as comprehensive as matrimonial laws. Normally the most significant asset is the house. The starting point is always to consider whose names are on the deeds to the property – but this is only the starting point! There are some circumstances which may allow you to claim an interest in your former partner’s home, for example if it is the family home for children, or if you have paid towards it – but this is a complicated area of law and it is very important to get some advice on your particular situation. If the home is owned in your former partner’s sole name, there may be steps which could be taken to register a potential interest for you at the Land Registry and protect any rights you may have. If you are just starting out, and are buying a home together for the first time, then you should take some advice now about how the property should be owned, as this may help prevent arguments later. A living together agreement can help to clarify who will (or won’t) have an interest in the equity in the home. Contact us for more information.

What if my partner leaves, but stops paying the bills?
The starting point is to consider whose name the bills are in. If your partner has left and has taken their name off the utility bills, then you will only be able to pursue them for maintenance to help pay these if you were married to each other. The only other maintenance which will be available regardless of whether or not you were married will be for children. However this is worked out according to a national calculation, which has no relevance to how much the bills are. If you are just moving in together, you need to think about what would happen if the other person left – and other issues which may arise – who would pay if the roof needed mending, or if the boiler broke down? Would this make a difference to how much of the house each of you “owned”? A living together agreement can cover these eventualities and make it clear who is responsible.

What about the contents of the house?
If you were not married to each other, then the basic rule is that each item belongs to whoever paid for it. This can lead to exhaustive battles to produce lists and receipts for items. However, you may both agree that it would only be right for example, that whoever any children live with should have the use of the majority of items – and such wishes can best be recorded in a living together agreement to settle any disputes which may arise later.

What if I die?
Many people do not make a will these days, and the intestacy rules which will apply if you die without a will are notoriously complex. Even if you and your partner have lived together for years, if you die without having made a will your property will be more likely to be inherited by your parents or siblings than by your partner, unless there is a court battle. It is not a nice thought to plan for the possibility of death, but if you don’t, then a very unfortunate situation may arise for those you leave behind.

What about the children?
It is difficult to be able to plan with any certainty what should happen for any children you may have – however it is sensible to receive some advice about the legal position here as well. For example, did you know that if you have the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate for children born after 1 December 2003, this will automatically give the father Parental Responsibility? Please contact one of our family lawyers to discuss children issues.

If you are separating now, and did not enter into a living together agreement at the start of the relationship, there may still be ways to come to an agreement about who gets what, but it’s important to make this official in a Separation Agreement

Need further advice?
Call Woolley & Co on 0800 3213832 or book a free initial telephone appointment with one of our lawyers.


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