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Legal rights for unmarried couples

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Families today are not always as straight forward as they once were. Not every couple is married when they buy a property or have children together. In fact some decide to go through their whole lives without getting married, feeling that they are already committed to one another. However, your legal rights are not always as clear if you’re not married. This can become more complex where property or children are involved, so it’s important to understand the legalities and what applies to you.

Buying a property together

One of the first commitments an unmarried couple often makes is when they purchase their first home together. This might seem like a good move, but if the relationship goes wrong or one partner dies, you may not have the rights to the property that you thought you did. It doesn’t matter how long you are living together in a property, if your name isn’t on the deeds then you’re not legally entitled to stay there.

There are ways in which you can show you have an interest in the property through a resulting or constructive trust. A resulting trust is where you contribute a specific percentage of the purchase price of the property; by doing so you will have a beneficial interest in that share of the house. A constructive trust is a form of common intention that you both have an interest in the property. This could be shown by putting money into DIY and renovations or mortgage contributions.

If you’re unmarried when you buy a property, there are a few ways you can jointly own the house. By becoming joint tenants you would own an equal share of the property. This means that if one of you dies, the other partner will receive your share and it doesn’t matter if their will says otherwise. Tenants in common can also have equal shares, but you can say in your will who receives your half if you die. There are also tenants in common who don’t have equal shares. This can be used if you put different amounts into the purchase of the property: for example, if one of you contributes 60% and the other 40%. Therefore, you will receive your percentage back from the equity if you sell the house.

Claiming inheritance

Couples who are unmarried need to ensure that they provide for each other through their wills in the event that one of them dies. Unlike married couples, you will not automatically be entitled to their assets, including their share of the property. You will also not be exempt from Inheritance Tax; whereas gifts between married couples on death are. However, you can avoid paying Inheritance Tax on their share of the property by becoming joint tenants, as then it will automatically pass to the remaining partner.

Stamp Duty when separating

parental separationIf the relationship was to come to an end and one of you wanted to take full ownership of the property, you would still need to pay Stamp Duty when transferring the deeds. However, when married couples go through a divorce, they can transfer property between themselves without having to pay the duty.

Pension provisions

For unmarried couples who have a pension, you should check what the specific rules are regarding providing for your partner once you’ve died. It may be necessary for you to name your partner for them to receive any income or benefits from your pension. Otherwise it could be difficult for them to claim any entitlement to the money.

Caring for children

The laws regarding children are the same for married and unmarried couples, as long as they have parental responsibility. There are rules regarding who is entitled to parental responsibility automatically and how to gain it through the legal system if you don’t. All mothers have parental responsibility for their children, as do married fathers. Unmarried fathers, though, need to be on the child’s birth certificate to have parental responsibility, if they were registered after December 1st 2013. If you don’t automatically have responsibility, you have to come to an agreement with the child’s mother or apply through the courts for a parental responsibility order.

If you’re unmarried and have either financial links or children together, then it’s vital that you understand what your legal position is. The end of a relationship is probably not an area you want to consider, but it’s important to have everything in place to ensure you receive what you’re entitled to if something does go wrong.




About Catherine Stern

About Catherine Stern

Catherine Stern is a freelance writer with a background in marketing and PR. She currently writes web content on a range of subjects, from finance and business to travel and home improvements. As a working single mum of two young boys she understands the pressures that today’s working parents face and the topics they want to read about.

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