1. Have conversations about how you plan to live together early on. Be clear about your plans for the future. Trigger points for such conversations include the point at which you move in together, when you buy a property together and when you have children.
2. How you own any property is key. Before you buy think about: what each of you will be contributing financially? What share do you each want or expect to have in the property? Who will be responsible for the mortgage? What do you want to happen if one of you dies?
If renting, consider whether the tenancy will be in joint or sole names and work out your plans for the future. Think about what else you may want to have in joint names. Joint accounts, including debts, are your joint responsibility. On death the surviving partner will automatically inherit the total credit or debt in the account. On relationship breakdown, you will need to agree how to close the joint account.
3. Check your entitlements – for example do your pension, life, health etc policies automatically cover cohabitants? You may be able to nominate them if not.
4. There are formal options available, like cohabitation agreements and wills; nomination form for pension and life cover benefits; putting property in joint names and having a declaration of trust to clarify ownership. Take advice, particularly in relation to tax consequences (including in the case of bereavement) and responsibility for mortgage payments.
5. Financial provision for children is available regardless of marital status. Applications for regular child maintenance payments can be made through the Child Maintenance Service (formerly known as the Child Support Agency). If there are sufficient resources, claims can be made to assist with the acquisition of a home and meeting other capital needs (eg car) for the benefit of the children whilst they remain in full time education.
6. There are some legal remedies available to cohabitants. For example, where one partner dies without providing sufficiently for the other by Will, the surviving partner may be able to claim (as a financial dependant) for provision from the deceased’s estate. If the couple split up, then depending on the facts of the situation it may be possible for a claim to be made for an interest in a property (usually a shared home) based on common intentions or financial contributions to the purchase.
There may also be potential remedies for limited periods of occupation of the home in some domestic situations. It is far better (and less costly) to try to agree about these issues from the outset, rather than untangle them at the end. The key is to get good legal advice about your particular situation.
7. Married parents, and those who are on the child’s birth certificate will have parental responsibility. Whilst mother will always have parental responsibility, unmarried fathers who are not on the birth certificate should enter into a parental responsibility agreement or if there is not agreement make an application to the court for parental responsibility.
8. All references to marriage in this episode include civil partnerships which provide you with the same rights and protections as marriage.