Marriage or Cohabitation – Do you know your rights?

With national statistics showing that marriage is on the decline it means that more couples are choosing to live together as opposed to getting married.
According to the Office for National Statistics, marriage for opposite-sex couples is now at its lowest level on record following a gradual decline since the 1970s. The number of opposite-sex marriages decreased by 3.4% in 2015 compared to 2014.
Marriage is not for everyone, but did you know there are differences between how married people and those that choose to cohabit are treated under English law? Often it is not an issue until a relationship breaks down and the arguments over who gets the house and the dog begin.
For example, did you know that if you are married and require medical treatment your partner has the legal right to make decisions on your behalf but if you are not married, no matter how long you have been together, it is likely your partner will need to defer to an immediate family member to make any decisions.
Also, when someone who is married dies, the other spouse has the legal right to the deceased estate but if you are not married the surviving partner has no right to the estate unless they are named in the will.
Regarding children, parental responsibility is automatic for the birth mother and for the husband of the birth mother if she is married. However, if the parents are not married the father would need to establish parental responsibility by either being named on the birth certificate, obtaining parental responsibility by agreement, or through an order made by the court or by marrying the mother.
When a relationship breaks down it brings all kinds of complications where property is concerned and for most couples their house will be their biggest asset. If you are married you have protection under the Matrimonial Home Rights and Family Law Act 1996 in relation to occupying the property and other rights under matrimonial law in relation to the division of and the provision for a family home, especially if there are children. For cohabiting couples their rights will depend on whether the property is registered in joint names or one partner's sole name. If the property is held in joint names then it will usually be divided equally between the couple. Where only one person owns the property it is a little more complicated and you would need to prove you have a beneficial interest in the property, for example by having paid for improvements in the property or if you have paid towards the deposit or part of the purchase price. This is a specialist area of law which requires a family solicitor with experience of this type of situation and we at Barber & Co can help.
At Barber & Co Ramsbottom we offer specialist family law advice and can offer you advice based on your individual situation. We offer a free 30 minute consultation with our Head of Family Law (Jacquie Birkett) so don't hesitate to contact us.

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