The Rise of the Cohabiting Family

Recent figures produced by the Office for National Statistics show that in the last ten years, the number of married couples living together with dependent children has decreased, whilst the number of non-married couples living together with dependent children has increased.

There are likely to be a number of reasons for these figures, not least in view of the changing attitudes towards marriage, religion and same-sex relationships. What is clear however is that an increasing number of families should think about the myriad of legal implications arising from living together on an unmarried or on civil partnership basis.

Here are some of the key things you should think about when living as a cohabitee:

Property

Under what terms do you own your house? Is it jointly owned or is it in the sole name of one of you? Either way, the rules are not the same for cohabiting couples as they are for married/civil partner couples. There is no such thing as a common law husband/wife and it may well be that one of you has no legal interest in the property, whether or not you have lived there for a period of time and/or made regular contributions.

Further, one person might think that they own a larger share of the house due to a greater financial contribution for example. This might also not be the case and could depend upon the terms under which you respectively purchased the property and the advice you received at the time.

Get some legal advice. If you wish to regulate more formally the way in which you own your house, then consider entering into a Cohabitation Agreement.

Children and Parental Responsibility*

It does not always follow that a father automatically holds parental responsibility (PR) for his child. If you are not married to the mother of your child and your child was born before December 2003 then the likelihood is that you do not have PR. This means that you do not have an automatic right to be involved in major decisions about your child upbringing. In these circumstances the only ways in which you can obtain PR is to enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother; or to obtain a Shared Residence Order from the Court. Alternatively, if you subsequently marry the mother of your child and you are the natural father then you will automatically be granted PR thereafter.

If you share the care of children who are not biologically yours, then the only ways in which you can obtain PR would be to either formally adopt the children, or marry the mother and obtain Step-Parent Parental Responsibility.

*If you are a civil partner and have concerns about Parental Responsibility for your children then please contact us regarding the specific circumstances of your case, whereupon we can provide you with personalised advice relevant to you.

Wills and Inheritance

Again the rules are different for married and non-married couples regarding Wills and Inheritance. Where cohabiting couples die without having made a will, unlike a surviving spouse there is no automatic right for the other person to inherit part of the deceased estate under the intestacy rules. Separate applications can be made to claim against the estate but it is not guaranteed that they will benefit; the surviving cohabitee will not be classified as a ext of kin

Parental Responsibility for your children may also be another important thing to consider in your will-making. If your cohabiting partner does not already hold Parental Responsibility for your child(ren) then you may wish to name them as a Guardian in your Will. Please bear in mind that there are other associated rules concerning Guardians and Parental Responsibility and so we would recommend that you ask us for personalised advice depending on your own circumstances.

At Emsleys we have dedicated expert solicitors who can provide advice in Family Law, Wills and Probate, Property ownership and many other personal and business issues. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you are in a cohabiting relationship with (or indeed without) dependent children and you would like some advice regarding your options on any of the above subjects.

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