Q: We have lived together for five years but being locked down together 24/7 since the coronavirus pandemic started has finished our relationship. As my partner was still at university when we bought our house, I paid most of the deposit and all the mortgage payments for the first two years. We have agreed to put the house up for sale now that the property market has kickstarted, but my partner seems to think he is entitled to half of everything, even though I have paid more than he has. Surely this isn’t right?
A: There are two issues here. Firstly, co-habiting couples do not have the same automatic rights as a married couple. Unmarried co-habiting couples must rely on the law of trusts if they want to claim a greater or lesser financial interest in a property they own jointly.
The other issue is that 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 - even if one partner contributed more to its purchase or upkeep. Working out who spent what in terms of percentages can be difficult if there is nothing formally put in writing. To challenge the general rule of the law in court can be costly and there is no guarantee of winning.
Whilst it does not help you now, for future reference co-habiting couples who are not married should have a legal agreement drawn up when they purchase a property together, 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. In light of your situation you should speak to a solicitor for advice as soon as possible.
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