Tips to protect live-together couples

20 Jul 2006

Live-together couples across the UK are being urged to take action to avoid being left penniless in the event of a split.

Figures show that more than 6,500 gay and lesbian couples tied the knot within four months of the first civil partnerships, formalising relationships and giving both partners protection if the relationship breaks down.

But couples living together - whether gay or straight - who have not registered a civil partnership or married don't get any protection. Family law group Resolution is urging these couples to consider how they are - or in reality, are not - protected if their relationship ends.

Resolution says "Six out of every ten cohabiting couples believe that, because they live together, they have the same protection as married couples if they separate. The truth is very different.

"Civil partnerships have given same sex couples who enter into the scheme the same level of protection as married heterosexual couples, but cohabiting couples who have not married or registered a civil partnership have no protection if they split.

"The law in this area is a shambles. All too often, when a relationship ends, one of the partners is left with nothing. The law desperately needs to catch up so these couples can be treated fairly."
Resolution is campaigning for a 'safety-net' for vulnerable people in cohabiting relationships, as well as giving people the opportunity to opt out. "We are not seeking the same rights as married couples for cohabitants but we believe there should be a safety-net legislation to protect the financially weaker person on relationship breakdown."

So what should cohabiting couples do in the meantime to protect themselves if their relationship breaks down? Resolution offers the following advice:
Make a will. Cohabitants don't automatically inherit from each other, so it's important if you do want your partner to benefit from your estate that you make provision for it.
If you're buying a house with your partner, be clear about the ownership of the property from the start. Ensure it is clearly defined, in writing, so that there's no room for misinterpretation if you separate.
Sometimes one partner will move into a house that is owned by the other. Whether or not you are contributing directly to mortgage payments, keep a record of what you contribute to the running of the house and make a note of any agreements or discussions - verbal or otherwise - relating to your share in the property.
Think long term - particularly if there are children involved. What would happen financially if you separate, particularly if one partner has given up work to raise a family? Talk through the scenarios with your partner and, when you reach a decision you are both comfortable with, formalise the agreement.
Think about your pension arrangements. Many pension schemes have automatic rights for husbands or wives, but not for live-in partners. Under some pension schemes you may be able to include your partner as your beneficiary, but don't assume that this will happen automatically.
Cohabiting couples don't benefit from the inheritance tax exemptions that married couples do, so you need to talk to your partner about inheritance and agree the best way forward for you as a couple.

For more information about these or any other queries relating to cohabitation, contact a Resolution member in your region. Members' details are available at