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Living together – is it still straight forward?

Changes to Cohabitation Law

Many people choose to set up home together without getting married. In fact, the Office of National Statistics data shows that cohabiting is the fastest growing type of family in the UK, with the number of cohabitants doubling to 2.9m since 1996. 

However, in Scotland many people cohabiting will be unaware that the law has changed significantly in this area.  Actually, the new law - the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 – is not that new anymore, having been in place for over 10 years!  However, there is a real lack of awareness about what it means for people.

The 2006 Act created new laws which mean that potential claims can be made if you are in a cohabiting relationship which ends if you separate or one partner dies.

Should you separate

Provided that an application is made to court within a strict one year timeframe, a cohabitant can apply to court to order their ex partner to make payment to them.  Broadly speaking, they would have to demonstrate that the end of the relationship left them financially disadvantaged.  The court has discretion as to whether or not any amount should be paid.  

There have been several cases reported however it is fair to say that the law is not clear or settled in this area.  A lot will turn on the facts of the particular case in question.  

Should one partner die

A surviving cohabitant can also claim on their deceased partner’s estate within 6 months of their death.  However, this only is the case if there is no Will in place and their estate is “intestate.” The 6-month timescale cannot be extended so seeking legal advice quickly is essential. 

How can I protect myself?

Many people cohabit because they don’t want the law “interfering” with their personal lives.   They don’t realise that the law has extended to this previously unregulated area.  There is a way to “opt out” of the new legislation by considering whether or not to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement.  

A Cohabitation Agreement is a straight forward agreement which sets out how you and your partner would like to distribute your shared assets and finances in the event of a break up.  

We would always recommend that those buying a property together where there are unequal deposits being invested consider a Cohabitation Agreement.  The agreement could state that if there is a separation, each person receives back what they put in. 

Ultimately it gives peace of mind and certainty about your future together.  If you would like to discuss any of the issues mentioned in this blog, please contact our Jenny Broatch.

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