• Chloë Rodway

How cohabitants can protect their finances if their relationship breaks down

How cohabitants can protect their finances if their relationship breaks down

Cohabiting couples don’t have the same legal rights as married couples, which can cause major problems if their relationship breaks down.

Many cohabitants think ahead and draw up a living together agreement that sets out in advance how their assets should be shared if they separate. This can help prevent confusion that often leads to bitter disputes.

Couples without such agreements may have to start from scratch to assess who owns what, how joint assets should be divided and how much each partner should pay in providing for their children, if there are any. Some couples manage to do this with relative ease; for others it can prove almost impossible.

It’s a good idea to consult a solicitor when discussing a financial settlement with your partner, to help you protect your interests. In the heightened emotion of separation, it’s all too easy to make decisions you may later regret. Good legal advice can prevent that.

Your solicitor will help you assess your situation and outline your options. This will be particularly important if you are in dispute about your home, or how debts should be paid or if you can’t agree on how to divide your joint possessions.

Four points to consider

  • The first step is to make a list of everything you own together. This would include your home, car, savings accounts and general household items. As a rule, if you own something individually such as a car, or if the house is in your name, it will be classed as yours. However, cohabitants often pay jointly for mortgages or car loans and so your partner may be able to make a claim against you, even if the item in dispute is in your name. Your solicitor will be able to advise and hopefully prevent disputes arising.

  • It may be that you don’t know how much your possessions are worth, so it may be necessary to call in expert assessors, such as an estate agent to value your home, or vehicle assessors to check the value of your car.

  • As well as listing your possessions, you should also look at your liabilities such as mortgages and outstanding amounts on any loans you have taken out.

  • Having established your possessions and calculated your liabilities, you can then start to decide how your assets should be divided.

If you have children together, you will also need to discuss how much you will each pay towards looking after them. This can get complicated and may affect how you decide to divide your assets.

Hopefully, if all goes smoothly, you will be able to reach an agreement without too many disputes. If you do, you should then ask your solicitor to draw up a document recording what’s been agreed for future reference.

It will be easier for you both to abide by your settlement if it’s written down and will help to quickly resolve any issues should they arise later.

There could be some issues that you find impossible to resolve, such as the future of the family home. Legally, it belongs to whoever has their name on the deeds, but if the other partner has contributed to its purchase then they may be able to make a claim for a share of its value.

Similar problems could arise if you bought the home together but can’t agree on how to split it, or which one of you should be allowed to continue living there. If it’s the family home for the children, that can create further complications.

Another issue that often arises is if one partner took out a loan on behalf of the other, who now refuses to make the repayments.

It maybe that you need to seek the help of a mediator to reach an agreement, or in more entrenched cases, you may need to take court action. Your solicitor will be able to advise you on the best course of action to minimise cost and stress, and to ensure your interests are protected.

If you would like more information or advice about the issues raised in this article, or any aspect of family law please contact our expert legal team on 02080040065, by email at hello@southgate.co.uk or using the form below.

The contents of this article is general information only. The information in this article is not legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should obtain independent expert advice from qualified solicitors such as those within our firm.

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