Q: My boyfriend has his own house, and I am considering moving in with him as it has been dreadful having to be apart during the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns. I am prepared to make contributions but am concerned that the property is just in his name. Is there still such a thing as common law marriage, and would I have any rights in relation to the house because of this?
A: Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’. Legally, an unmarried cohabiting couple is treated quite differently to a married couple or civil partners.
The Family Law Act 1996 gives married couples and civil partners ‘home rights’ which affect whether someone can dispose of a property, even when it is in their sole name, and gives rights to occupy the marital home. However, unmarried cohabiting couples do not have these protections. Following a divorce or dissolution, the Courts also have the power to redistribute property belonging to either party. However, the Courts do not have the power to do this for unmarried cohabiting couples.
This can be problematic when unmarried cohabiting couples separate and one cohabitant owns more assets than the other, because there is less protection for the cohabitant with less assets than there would be if they were married or in a civil partnership.
There are, however, things you can do to protect yourself in these circumstances. It might be beneficial to explore the idea of agreeing a ‘cohabitation agreement’ with your partner. This is in effect a contract which details your agreed intentions in respect of finances and property if you were to separate. This contract can be made at any point during your relationship and a Solicitor can assist you in writing it and enforcing it should you separate. A cohabitation agreement can provide a level of certainty and security for yourself.
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