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Do I Have Cohabiting Rights to Property?

Today, more and more couples are cohabiting. Having a career or starting a family is trumping the desire to get married as the first port of call. Therefore, there are a large number of couples who are living together but are unmarried partners or in a civil partnership. With cohabiting agreement becoming the norm, where do couples stand in terms of a property they live in together?

Property rights

Unlike married couples, cohabiting couples do not have automatic financial or property rights.  However, each individual does have potential claims under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act of 1996.

To best understand the rights you have to your home you will need to distinguish who owns it…

Joint Tenants

There are two ways of jointly owning a property – as Joint Tenants or Tenants in Common. You can find this information out by contacting the Land Registry. If you own a property as Joint Tenants, you are both considered joint and equal owners of the house regardless of being married. The property is split 50/50 between you and your partner and you both have exactly the same rights.

Tenants in Common

As Tenants in Common, each individual owns shares in the property. These shares can be split 50/50, 70/30; however, you both deem fit. If the shares aren’t equal this will be detailed in a Declaration of Trust. If there is no paper trail regarding the shares, the property will resume a 50/50 split between each person.

One person’s name

If you or your partner own the property, the other party will likely still be able to prove their interest in it via a Declaration of Trust. If there is no declaration cohabitees can prove their emotional and financial investment in their home by demonstrating either:

  • That there was a trust between the property owner and cohabitee that the property would be treated equally as ‘theirs’
  • That the cohabitee was led to believe they had a beneficial interest in the home

Cohabiting property rights

When a relationship breaks down in a cohabiting scenario it must be remembered that both parties invested initially. No matter who owns the property, both individuals invested money into the home and were of the agreement and understanding that it was their property together.

Although it sounds highly unromantic, if you and your partner choose to cohabit first have a frank discussion about investing in the property and both your wishes going forward. It could be an ideal opportunity to seek legal advice by entering a Declaration of Trust. This would protect both of you if the relationship was to break down.

Cohabiting is a new and developing area of the law and it can be confusing to some couples. If you are at all stuck on matters it is best to contact expert help in the form of a family law specialist.

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