Info & Advice

How do I protect my property when my partner moves in?

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It can be extremely exciting when your partner moves in with you, but connected to this tremendous change are a number of implications that cohabiting couples should think about before taking the plunge. In this guide, we explain how you can protect your property and what you should think about when your partner moves in.

In the UK, cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples or those in civil partnerships. But by the same token, cohabiting comes with certain responsibilities, so it is important to make sure you are prepared for any scenario.

How does cohabiting affect my property rights?

If you own the property your partner is moving into, you will retain your legal ownership of the home and any possessions that you purchased before they moved in. However, if your partner can claim “beneficial interest” in the property by contributing towards the mortgage or paying for substantial home improvements, such as an extension. Essentially, it can be anything that adds to the property’s value, then theoretically, they could force you to sell the property or claim proceeds from a sale. Unlike the legal owner, the beneficial owner’s name may not necessarily be noted on the official land registry documents.

However, the legal owner’s interests can be protected by entering into a cohabitation agreement dealing with property rights upon separation.

If you are renting and the tenancy agreement is in your sole name, your partner will not acquire any rights to remain living in the property in the event of a separation.

What is unaffected by my partner moving in with me?

When someone moves into your home, the ownership of your possessions, savings, and investments is unaffected. Essentially, if you owned something before your partner moved in, it will continue to belong to you. After your partner moves in, if you buy something yourself using your own money, it will be your property and be unaffected by the presence of your partner.

If you buy something together, you will both own it based on the ratios contributed to the purchase price unless you agree otherwise. If your partner has gifted you something, then you will own it, although this can be difficult to prove if there is a dispute.

What other things should I consider what someone moves in?

There is no shortage of things to discuss when moving in with someone, but the main ones include:

  • How you intend to split the costs

Living together means that you will have shared living expenses, from broadband and food bills to paying council tax. So it is important to decide how these costs will be divided. You may decide to split them 50:50, but if one of you earns more than the other, this could be seen as unfair.

  • Consider opening a joint bank account for shared expenses

Once you’ve decided how to split the bills, you might find it easier to set up a joint bank account to pay them. Each party could pay an agreed amount per month into the account from which all expenses are paid. You should remember that both of you will be liable for any debts that arise on the account, so it is crucial that you are both in the same place when it comes to your attitude towards spending.

Unmarried couples will only be jointly liable for debts taken out together and will not be responsible for the individual debts of the other party. This means that if one party has taken out a loan in their name on the basis the other party will contribute, they may end up being left with sole liability in the event of a separation.

  • Maintain separate bank accounts

Whilst it may be tempting to merge your finances in their entirety, maintaining separate bank accounts can help protect your own assets. Although you may choose to open a bank account for shared expenses, keeping your primary accounts separate can ensure that your personal assets remain your own. This is particularly important if one party has significantly more assets or debts than the other.

  • Think about making a will if you don’t already have one. There are no automatic rights for your partner to inherit your estate or you theirs. If both of you make a will, then arrangements can be made for your partner.
  • Keep a detailed record of individual contributions

Keep track of rent or mortgage payments, utility bills, and any other shared expenses. Maintaining these records will help to establish a clear understanding of each person’s financial contributions, which can be referred back to if necessary.

  • Create a cohabitation agreement

A cohabitation, or living together agreement, sets out the financial arrangements during the couple’s relationship and if they decide to separate. It can set out arrangements for finances, property, and children.

What can be included in a cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is a legal document which is enforceable by the court providing it is properly executed and both parties have been honest about their finances. The couple should also obtain their own independent legal advice on the implications of the agreement.

Every cohabitation agreement is unique to its circumstances, although there are a number of key elements that are common to every agreement.

  • Ownership of property
  • Property title deeds
  • Protect the deposit on the home
  • What share of the mortgage or rent the parties will each pay
  • How household bills will be dealt with
  • Bank accounts and money
  • Life insurance
  • Pensions/pension access
  • Assets such as cars, furniture, jewellery, or other property
  • Payments of debts
  • Pets
  • Next of kin rights
  • Inheritance and wills

Can a cohabitation agreement be modified after it has been created?

A cohabitation agreement can be modified at any time after it has been created. In fact, it is advisable that you keep the agreement updated as your relationship changes or if anything significant happens, such as the birth of children, one of you becomes seriously ill or disabled, your financial circumstances change or you are made redundant.

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