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Moving in, getting engaged or married on Valentine’s Day? Don’t overlook the important legal consequences

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Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and for some couples, it will represent a new chapter in their relationship.  Some couples may see this day of love as the perfect excuse to move in together, get engaged or even marry on 14 February.  

These romantic, personal decisions can have a huge impact on your future life and it’s best to sort out any legalities before this new journey begins. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned and unnecessary stress and expense can be avoided by getting the right legal advice and any agreements in place as you start sharing your life with your partner. 

When moving in with my partner what rights do I have over the home?

For those moving in together, there may be an impact on any pre-owned property.  If one party owns a property and a partner then starts to cohabit in that property, if contributions (financial or otherwise) are made in the belief that this is a jointly owned home, then this could give rise to a claim to that property.  Simply contributing to utilities will not give an automatic right to a financial interest in the home, but if assistance is given towards mortgage repayments or refurbishments, then this could become problematic if the relationship breaks down. 

When buying a house with a partner who owns what? 

If a couple decide to buy a property together, it will be important to record how the property should be owned.  If unequal contributions are made to the deposit and/or mortgage repayments, then this should be properly set out at the point that the house is purchased.  If both parties will be renovating or refurbishing a property, they should think about how this would affect their respective rights in that property.  Thought should also be given to how the daily expenses will be met; the way that a couple conduct their financial affairs can result in an inferred or imputed intention to change how the property is beneficially owned. 

What is a Cohabitation Deed or Living Together Agreement?

Litigation arising upon the separation of unmarried couples can be lengthy, complicated and very expensive.  Having a Cohabitation Deed or Living Together Agreement in place can assist in providing clarification in the event of a relationship breakdown.   Whilst claims against cohabitees are far more limited than those of a spouse, the law is unsatisfactory and there is little certainty in outcome.  The English legal system does not recognise a "common law marriage" and this can result in one or both parties dealing with difficultly upon separation. 

How can I plan for my future when I get married?

If a couple decide to become engaged, they may wish to consider how a marriage will affect their circumstances.  Upon marriage, spouses gain automatic rights against each other's capital, income and pensions.  This represents a significant change, and if there are pre-owned assets or wealth that has accrued outside of the relationship, then this should be properly protected; the best way to do so is with a pre-nuptial agreement. 

Protective documentation can set out how the parties intend to conduct their affairs and give clear indications as to financial provision throughout the relationship or division upon separation.  The documentation should also set out when there should be a review.  When entering into such documentation, it is crucial to be transparent as to respective financial positions and for both parties to have independent legal advice.  Timing is also key, as the documents should always be negotiated and signed in good time before moving in together or upon marriage. 

Should I seek legal advice?

Whilst protective mechanisms can be portrayed as cynical and unsavoury, they are gaining in popularity.  There are more and more cases where Cohabitation Deeds and pre / Post Nuptial Agreements are being tested and, if prepared correctly, they will provide the proper protection that is intended.  

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