Whilst many couple in the modern prefer to simply set up home together without necessarily entering into the binding contract of marriage it is important to remember that for the moment at least there is no legal recognition of being a “common law” husband or wife. If you’ve lived with your partner for several years, bought a house together, had children together and contributed equally to the family income, you may be forgiven for thinking that should you one day split up that the law will give you the same status as a married couple however it is clear that this is not the case.
Therefore a couple living together need to think carefully about what they intend and expect in a number of important areas, including property and financial support, their children, pensions and inheritance. If the relationship ends, very different rules apply for a couple who are married and those who are not.
When a married couple separate or divorce, a Court can share out assets and make maintenance and other various ancillary orders in the way it considers fair and just looking at the contribution made by both parties during the course of the marriage and their current and future financial status. This is not the case for unmarried couples, and the entitlement on the breakdown of the relationship or death could be very different from what was expected.
The fact that you may have shared a home with your partner for many years whilst caring for your mutual children perhaps to the detriment of your potential career prospects does not mean that you will be entitled to any maintenance in the event of a split. There are also significant differences between married couples and co-habitees with regard to rights of inheritance, exemptions from inheritance tax and pensions.
It is important that careful consideration is given to any decision made by co-habitees in their lives together. If you intend that you should both have an equal share in your house should you split or in the event of the death of one of the parties, you will need to get a solicitor to draw up a Trust Deed and also a Cohabitation Agreement. Whilst such Agreements are not always enforceable in the Courts they can help couples think about what is to happen if their relationship ends and can set out intentions with regard to financial and property matters. Another extremely important preventative measure for all unmarried couples to take is to make Wills to ensure that on death their respective wishes are taken into account.
Future proposed legislation is trying to address the issue of co-habitees and their legal rights. The Civil Partnership Bill contains proposals aimed at giving legal protections to couples that live together at the end of a relationship if they have lived together for 3 years or more with the period reduced to two years should the couple have children. The bill will allow one partner to pursue the other for maintenance and property settlement in the event of a break up
If you wish to obtain further information in relation to any point raised above, then please contact Joe or Daragh at Hassett Considine Solicitors LLP, 9 Carmody Street Business Park, Ennis, Co. Clare (065-6865480) or 19 Kilrush Town Centre, Kilrush, Co. Clare (065-9051588).