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

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Many couples who live together assume they have far more rights than they do. The phrase ‘common law wife’ doesn’t exactly help as it implies you have some status — and therefore protection by law — simply because you live together. Find out what – if any – rights you have.

Cohabiting rights –  your property

The biggest financial asset you’re likely to own is your property. It is important to think about how you own it — in legal terms. This could make all the difference if you were to split up.

If you want to own your property equally, you have two options. You can either own the property as joint tenants or as tenants in common with a 50:50 split.

  • If you own your property as joint tenants: the ownership is automatically split between you. It also means that your half of the property will pass to your partner when you die.

SAVVY TIP: Even if you have a will and say that you want your half of your property to go to someone else (your parents or child, for example), that won’t happen if it’s owned jointly as joint tenants.

  • If you own your property as tenants in common and don’t have a separate document specifying that you own unequal shares, it will still be assumed that you own the property 50:50 but your share won’t automatically pass to your partner if you were to die.

SAVVY TIP: In this situation you can decide who you would like to leave your half of your property to. If you don’t have a will your money and property will automatically go to your children (if you have any), then your parents and onto other relatives according to what’s called ‘intestacy rules’. You can read more about the intestacy rules in my article entitled Understanding intestacy rules – who inherits if you don’t have a will?.

If you want to own unequal shares: You can only own your property as tenants in common. But that alone isn’t enough to say that it’s owned unequally. You should also get a deed or declaration of trust drawn up — it’s a document that sets out who owns what.

If one of you owns the property: You don’t get any rights simply by living there or even by paying towards the bills. If you pay half the mortgage you could make a claim against your partner if you were to split up based on what’s called an ‘implied trust’. This basically means that your understanding was that you were paying half the mortgage in exchange for a percentage of the property (and not just as a way of contributing towards living costs).

SAVVY TIP: You may be able to argue your case based on a conversation but you’d have a much stronger case if you had some sort of written agreement.

Joint savings and investments

Anything that you own jointly (such as savings and investments) is assumed to be split 50:50, even if one of you paid far more towards it than the other.

Debts
It’s really important that you’re clear about the implications of taking on joint debts with your partner or on their behalf. If you take out a joint loan or mortgage it means:

  • You are each liable for the whole debt on any joint loans. That means if the worst were to happen and you were to split up, you’d each have a legal obligation to pay the outstanding balance.

SAVVY TIP: I get a number of emails from women who had taken out joint loans with their partner and who are left to pick up the tab when the relationship breaks down acrimoniously (I’m sure it works both ways). So, if your partner were to move out and refuse to pay a penny towards the joint mortgage, the bank could — and would — come after you for the whole lot.

  • Your credit files will be linked. Once you have joint debts, every time you apply for credit a prospective lender can also see your partner’s credit file. If your partner has had credit problems in the past (or does now) it could affect your ability to get credit, even if you’re applying for a loan on your own.

SAVVY TIP: Your credit details will be linked for as long as you have joint loans. It doesn’t matter whether you’re still a couple or have split up. You can separate your credit files, but you have to meet certain criteria. You can read more about this in my article on If you have a partner with a bad credit rating, will it affect yours?.

If you take out a loan on your partner’s behalf:

You are liable for all the payments. It doesn’t matter who or what the loan or credit agreement was for, it’s the person whose name is on it who is responsible for paying it. That means if your partner can’t or won’t pay up, you will have to.

Related articles:

How a living together agreement can protect your financial position

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

Joint debts; what the law says if you owe money with someone else

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