Is it your place or mine?

Unmarried couples have no statutory property rights, so written agreements are essential. Frances Way reports

"YOUR place or mine?" is a question that takes on a new meaning when a couple decide to live together. A home provides for emotional and physical needs, and is also a big financial asset - or liability - depending on which way you look at it. The last thing you want is for your home to become a source of insecurity and discord. The way to avoid this is to know your individual rights at the outset.

If you both have a home, practical issues may decide whose place is chosen as the new joint home. For example, one partner's place may simply be more spacious and conveniently situated than the other's. Finances may dictate whether two homes can be kept on. Or you may conclude that neither home is suitable and that you must find a new place together.

Whatever you decide, it is important that you are fully aware of your property rights and needs rather than simply allowing an arrangement to evolve by chance. The property disputes of unmarried couples who have not made proper arrangements are often far messier and costly than those of divorcing couples who have the protection of statute. It makes sense to consult a solicitor to discuss your situation before you make decisions about your home.

If you decide to buy a home together, you will need to decide whether to own it as joint tenants or as tenants-in-common. (The word tenant has a wider meaning than when applied to renting).

Joint tenancy gives each an equal financial stake in the property, regardless of who actually pays what towards the purchase. When the property is sold, each person will be entitled to half the proceeds. When one person dies, the property automatically passes into the sole name of the surviving partner.

This gives each partner equal security in the home, but might not reflect the financial investment of each fairly.

A couple who hold the property as tenants-in-common may split the ownership according to each person's financial stake. For example, the home could be owned in a ratio of 1:2, to reflect the fact that one person pays twice as much of the mortgage as the other. When the home is sold, the proceeds will be divided according to the proportions in which the home was owned.

The main problem that arises when a couple hold a home as tenants-in- common occurs when one partner dies without making a will. The deceased person's part of the property will pass according to the laws of intestacy. An unmarried partner is not recognised as next of kin. The surviving partner would need to contest the inheritance to avoid buying out the inheritor's share in the property, or selling up.

Making a will avoids this problem and - unlike the case with jointly held property - each partner in couples who hold a property as tenants- in-common may decide who inherits his or her share of the home. For example, someone with children from a previous relationship may prefer to leave the share to them, perhaps after granting the surviving partner a life interest in the property first.

If one partner already owns the home, it is possible to make an alteration to give the other partner ownership rights either as a joint tenant or as a tenant-in-common. Or the property-owning partner could draw up a deed of trust giving the other partner a right to live in the property and a share of the proceeds of the sale.

The danger when one partner is sole owner is that the other partner could be left in a vulnerable position. In order to sell the property when a home is jointly owned (either as joint tenants or tenants-in-common), both owners must consent to the sale. A sole owner may sell the property without the other partner's consent.

If a deed of trust has been made, however, the non-owning partner could seek redress through the courts, but even this is really shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

Unlike a married person, the non-owning partner has no way of making a note on the property register to warn a potential buyer of his or her existence. Also, unlike a spouse, the sole owner's partner has no right to request a statement of account to see if the mortgage payments are being made. Nor will the lender be able to accept payment from the non- owning partner. This could cause considerable problems if the owner abandons the home.

Often where one partner owns the property and the other moves in, there is an informal arrangement that the owner pays the mortgage while the other partner pays for the bills and other household expenses. Such payments will give the non-owning partner no rights in the property, regardless of the amount. This is obviously unfair, as one partner will be building up a financial asset, whereas the other - who may be spending just as much - has nothing to show for it.

Property arrangements may also be recorded in a cohabitation contract, which can be drawn up by a solicitor fairly cheaply. Such a contract can go into as little or as much detail as the couple desire, and can include agreements as to how the property is held and what should happen to it if the couple part. It may also cover numerous other topics, such as pension and insurance arrangements and owner- ship of personal items. However, the contract will create no actual right in the property, and the only recourse left to a wronged partner would be to bring an action for breach of contract.

For married couples, property disputes are governed by statute that gives the non-owning spouse a fair degree of security. Unmarried couples must rely on the general laws relating to property. The only exceptions to this are situations where the couple have children, and the court considers it necessary to intervene to ensure that the children have a home.

o The writer is the author of `Living Together', published by Kogan Page. Price: pounds 8.99.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam