When it's time to take the next step in your relationship, moving in together is the natural progression. Whether you are house hunting or making space in your wardrobe, establishing a home that represents you as individuals and also creates a foundation from which you can build a shared life together, is a wonderful moment in your relationship.
Alongside the excitement, there are a number of legal issues that you should be aware of as you approach the commitment of cohabitation:
If you are moving into a property that is already rented by one of you, then you will need the consent of the landlord for the other partner to move in. Should the worst happen and you are not the named tenant then you can be asked to leave at any time and you will have no right to stay in the property, if your partner moves out on their own.
If the intention is for you to share a property that one of you already owns, what are the terms under which you will occupy together? The simple position is that the person moving in will not acquire any legal rights of ownership in the absence of an explicit agreement. This means that should the worst happen and your relationship ends, the non-owning partner could be asked to leave the property at any time, with no claims to any contributions or enhancements made to the home during the relationship.
Sadly, when relationships end badly, an acrimonious situation can arise and there can be different accounts of what has been agreed or not in relation to the property. Should the issue be litigated, a judge will need to hear both sides of the story and will make a decision based on the evidence available. One way to avoid any future dispute, and also to make it clear exactly where you both stand from the beginning, is to enter into a cohabitation agreement setting out the terms under which you occupy the property and contribute to the ongoing costs.
If you are purchasing a property together, it is particularly important that you document your respective interests and record your intentions and understanding about your respective interest in the property. Do you want to own it according to your respective contributions to the purchase price and how will you factor any mortgage into the calculation?
Every enduring relationship benefits from a firm foundation of openness and honesty and an appreciation of the legal consequences of your situation is part of that conversation. If considered in an open and frank manner from the beginning these discussion can serve to provide a strong footing for the future.
First published 5 June 2019.