Q: My partner and I bought a house together nine years ago. I hoped we would eventually get married but this has not happened and now he has met someone else and wants to buy me out of the property.
He has made me an offer but I don’t think it reflects the fact that I paid a greater proportion of the deposit and all the mortgage repayments for three years whilst he went back to university. The problem is that I don’t know what sort of figure I should accept as we did not have a written agreement about what would happen if we split up. What should I do?
A: You need to seek legal advice as soon as possible. In English law co-habiting couples who are not married but who jointly own their family home, will each automatically receive 50% of the sale proceeds if the property is sold. This is still the case even if one partner contributed more to its purchase or upkeep and working out who spent what in terms of percentages can be difficult. To challenge the general rule of the law in court can be costly and there is no guarantee of winning.
Unfortunately it is a myth that co-habiting couples have the same automatic rights as a married couple. Unmarried co-habiting couples have to rely on the law of trusts if they want to claim a greater or lesser financial interest in a property they own jointly. The best course of action for co-habiting couples is to have a legal agreement drawn up at the time of purchase, stating who owns what and in what proportions. A Co-habitation Agreement not only lets you document how you will split your property, its contents, personal belongings, savings and other assets if the relationship breaks down, but also how you will manage your day-to-day finances.