According to the Office for National Statistics, the numbering cohabiting couple families has increased significantly by 29.7% between 2004 and 2014. In 2014 there were 18.6 million families in the UK. Of these, almost 3.1 million were cohabiting couple families, of either the same sex or opposite sex.
In 2010 the Office for National Statistics had projected that the number of cohabiting couple families would increase to 3.3 million by 2033, however the latest figures reveal that this figure has almost been reached.
It would appear that year on year, an increasing number of couples are choosing to cohabit rather than marry or enter into civil partnerships. The reason for this is unclear, but leading researchers have linked this to the struggling economy over the past decade, and people simply not being able to afford to marry.
There is often a misconception that such couples have the same legal rights as married couples or civil partners, when it comes to separation, or death. People often think that as ‘common law man and wife’ they are sufficiently protected, however, they are not.
If cohabiting couples do not make Wills, there is no automatic right to inherit any of their partners’ estate. The rules of intestacy then apply, which could see their estate pass to their children, parents, or more distant relatives. If the partner’s family do not agree to let them have something, the surviving partner may have to bring a claim for financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
As a solicitor specialising in inheritance disputes and a member of the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialist, I deal with cases like this frequently. I have seen an increase in the number of inheritance dispute cases, and enquiries, over the past few years, where cohabitees have not made Wills. More surprisingly, I have seen an increase in older age cohabitee claims, showing that such relationships are not just prevalent in the younger generation. It unfortunately no longer surprises me how often the family of the deceased turn on the partner of the deceased, despite having had a good relationship for many years.
Likewise, on separation, a dispute can often arise over the ownership of the family property, and who is entitled to what share of it. This can often depend on what financial contributions each person has made to the property, and what was intended when the property was purchased, but can also extend to non-financial contributions, such as one person giving up work to look after children. I also specialise in these types of unmarried property disputes, and this is a very complex area of law.
If you think you may have a claim against your late partner’s estate, or you have a dispute with an ex partner over a property, or just want to know your rights, it is important that you seek specialist legal advice as early as possible. The time limit for bringing some of these types of claim is very short, and you could miss out on your claim if you wait too long.
For a fixed fee of £79.95, you can have a 30 minute appointment with myself, either on the telephone, or face to face, depending on your preference. We will take some details from you before the appointment, and I will then discuss your case with you, and what your options are. If your case is something that we can then help you further with, we can then discuss your funding options with you. For cases like this, we can sometimes consider a “no win no fee” agreement, depending on the circumstances of your case. Call us on 0333 344 4772.
By Will, trust and estate disputes solicitor, Heather Korwin-Szymanowska