Living together; does your partner have any rights to your property once you live together?

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One question that comes up regularly is ‘will my boyfriend have a claim on my flat if he moves in with me?’. The answer is ‘it depends’. It’s certainly not automatic, but there are some grey areas.

n general terms Couples currently have very few rights and one partner generally doesn’t acquire the right to a share in the other’s property purely because they live together. However, it can be a bit of a grey area so it’s probably better to protect yourself with a written agreement.

1. Will my partner have a claim on my property?
The law is a bit different in England and Wales compared to Scotland, but in general terms couples who live together without marrying aren’t able to make a financial claim against each other just because they’ve cohabited.

However there is an exception:

  • If your partner thinks there was an agreement to share. If your partner moves into a flat or house that you own, he or she could make a claim for an interest in the property under what’s called an ‘implied trust’.
  • There doesn’t have to have been a written agreement, although it’s much easier to prove if there is. Your partner could say that he or she thought there was an understanding that if he/she contributed towards the property, such as by paying towards the mortgage or the cost of building work or renovations, he/she would be entitled to a share of it.

SAVVY TIP: In Scotland the situation is slightly different. Since 2006, couples who live together have been able to make a financial claim against each other — in limited circumstances. More importantly, he/she could acquire rights to your property if you live together.

2. What can I do about it?
If you don’t want your partner to be able to make a claim against you for a share of your property if you were to split up, the best option is to have a written agreement that spells this out.

SAVVY TIP: If you own the property and your partner isn’t paying towards the mortgage or improvements/major renovations, you don’t need to have an agreement drawn up by a lawyer, says David Allison, a partner with Family Law in Partnership. “If that’s the case, all you’d need is something in writing that you’ve both signed which states that your partner won’t acquire any rights to the property.”

If your partner will be contributing towards the mortgage or putting a lump sum into the property, David Allison recommends talking to a lawyer and getting them to draft the agreement. “If ownership isn’t so straightforward it’s important that each of you understand the implications of drawing up and signing an agreement.”

SAVVY TIP: You can contact a property (conveyancing) solicitor or a family lawyer. Whichever option you go for, make sure you think about what may happen in the future (for example, once the mortgage has been reduced or paid off) and how that will affect ownership of the property.”

SAVVY TIP: If you live in Scotland you should definitely draw up a legal document that states that your partner will not make a claim against you for a percentage of the property.

3. Does it matter what the payment is used for?
If your partner gives you money every month it may be that you’ve not specified exactly what that money should be used for. What’s important is what he or she thinks or intends the money to be used for.

  • Make sure you agree what the money is for in advance. So, if your partner gives you £500 a month towards the mortgage and bills and you use it all on bills/food, that’s immaterial. What matters is the fact that he/she believed that the money was being used to pay the mortgage.

SAVVY TIP: If your partner makes any payment towards the mortgage he/she could make a claim against you for a share in the property because he/she has helped you to purchase the property. It doesn’t mean the claim will succeed, but it’s possible your partner may decide to take legal action.

4. Will my partner inherit my property if I die?
If you and your partner live together there is no automatic right for one partner to inherit from the other. However, there are limited circumstances in which he or she could inherit a share of your property.

  • You have a will that states he/she should inherit a share.
  • You and your partner own your property jointly and as joint tenants. If that’s the case your half will automatically go to him/her when you die, no matter what’s said in your will (or even if you don’t have a will).

SAVVY TIP: In Scotland, the equivalent of owning as ‘joint tenants’ is called ‘joint tenants with a survivorship clause’ or ‘with survivorship.

  • Your partner makes a claim against your estate. He or she would only be able to do this in limited circumstances and these cases can be financially and emotionally draining.

Useful links:

The free and independent information website Advicenow.org.uk has a large section on living together with lots of information about legal agreements and the consequences of breaking up.

Citizens Advice also has information on marriage and living together, the legal differences. There’s one section for England and Wales, one for Northern Ireland and another for Scotland.

Related articles:

What are your rights if you live with your partner? What to think about before you move in

Buying a property jointly; how to own property if you buy with someone else

Buying a property together; what the law says if you live in Scotland

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