We often use the Autumn months as an opportunity to get round to doing those things we’ve put off or maybe just haven’t had time to do.
As a family law solicitor, clients often tell me ‘I wish I had done this!’ so I’d like to highlight a few things, in the context of a relationship, that you might want to think about.
Making and altering your Will
It’s amazing how many people don’t like to think about their Will. If you die without having a Will, what you own at the time of your death (known as your ‘estate’) will be distributed in accordance with the law rather than in line with your wishes. This can mean that those you wanted to help will be left with nothing. For example, if you are not married or are in a civil partnership when you die, your partner is not legally entitled to anything.
In the same way, if your circumstances change and you haven’t altered your Will, your estate could benefit someone you didn’t intend it to. It’s important to remember that even if you have separated from your spouse or civil partner, they still may end up inheriting from your estate. This may, for example, be at the expense of your children from a previous relationship.
Formalising a separation
You may have been separated from your spouse or civil partner for some time and simply haven’t got round to formalising things. It’s important to realise the process doesn’t have to be unpleasant. Providing the other person agrees in writing, it is possible to get to get divorced or dissolve a civil partnership if you have been living separately for a period of two years. This could be the case even if you have been living under the same roof. You do not need the other person’s permission if you have been apart for five years. For some people, getting divorced or dissolving a civil partnership can actually mark the beginning of a new chapter in their lives.
Getting divorced or dissolving a civil partnership has a bearing on your finances. This is because it is one way of ‘unlocking’ the possibility of resolving your finances through a court order. When a couple has separated, they may have agreed between them how to divide anything they owned together. However, usually an informal agreement like this is not legally binding. Unless such an agreement is ‘converted’ into a court order, even you are divorced or your civil partnership has been dissolved, your ex could still apply to the court for something out of your estate.
If you are not married or in a civil partnership, what should you be thinking about? Unmarried couples have no automatic legal rights to a share in assets such as a home – even if you have been paying the mortgage. Apart from getting married or entering a civil partnership, you can also consider preparing a cohabitation agreement. This is a legal document that can be enforced, rather like a contract. It sets out who owns what and how any assets will be divided should you separate. A cohabitation agreement is a very important thing not to put off. It needs to be carefully prepared and each of you must be given the chance to seek legal advice about it.
Declaration of Trust
If you are thinking of buying somewhere together and are putting more money towards your home than your partner, please do not ignore a Declaration of Trust. This is a legal document which acknowledges how much more you have contributed and provides that you should be compensated in the event that your home should be sold.
Depending on your circumstances, these are just some of the things that you should think about addressing, and not put off. If you need further information or advice in respect of this or any other family matter, please call Imran Khodabocus at The Family Law Company on 01392 284 851.
Providing that you qualify financially, you can still get legal aid if you have suffered domestic violence. Even if you don’t qualify, your initial appointment is always free.