Q: My partner and I are in our 50s, we own a property outright as tenants in common. We do not intend to get married as we have both been married (and divorced) before. I am worried that if my partner were to die, his estranged adult children would inherit his estate, leaving me in a difficult position financially in respect of the property. I am also concerned about the issue of having to pay Inheritance Tax on my partner’s estate.
A: Yours is not an unusual situation; many middle-aged couples have chosen to live together without being married.
It is understandable that you are concerned about what would happen to you should your partner die without having left a Will. When someone dies without a Will, then the estate is divided in line with the Rules of Intestacy and, unfortunately, intestacy law still does not recognise couples who are unmarried or not in a civil partnership. This would mean that either your partner’s children would inherit his half of the house you live in and may insist you buy out their share, or the house would have to be sold.
It is widely believed that David Gauke, the Justice Secretary, will be shortly launching an official consultation on divorce reforms, including the introduction of “no-fault divorce”.
There has been a very vocal campaign over the last few years from Resolution, The Times newspaper, legal bloggers, and others for the Government to overhaul the current divorce legislation and to do away with the need for one party to apportion blame on the other in a divorce petition. According to divorce lawyers, the blame game can increase hostility between a divorcing couple and negatively impact on discussions about the couple’s children and the financial settlement. This criticism is backed up by The Finding Fault research report, which concluded that the current 50-year-old legislation is out of step with modern families and 21st Century life.
Current divorce law means that a couple must be separated for 2 years or more to start the divorce process if they do not wish to use fault in their divorce petition. If one party doesn’t agree to a divorce on the grounds of 2 years separation, then the other spouse is potentially faced with waiting for a period of 5 years of separation before being able to start proceedings. It is these long periods of waiting that force many couples into using unreasonable behaviour to enable them to start the divorce process sooner rather than waiting for those very long separation periods to complete.
Social Media is now a part of our everyday lives; on the one hand, it allows people to connect with each other across the world, provides a window into each other’s lives, and opens us up to new opportunities and challenges. On the other hand, however, it can become a festering cesspit of accusations, lies, half-truths and used as a platform on which to wage a war of reprisal against a former spouse or partner. Our tips on how to use – and not use – social media during a divorce or separation will help you divorce with dignity
1 – Do change your passwords. This is an important measure to take on all social media and email accounts for your own security. If the break-up has been less than amicable, then you need to make sure that your ex doesn’t have any access to your personal social media and email accounts. If you know your ex’s passwords, do not be tempted to use them to log into their accounts.
2 – Don’t spy on your ex. However tempting this might be, all it will do is cause you more pain and distress. You may wish to consider blocking him or her and any of their close friends – this will give you some space in your digital life and means that you can focus on you and your life without having posts from your ex pop up in your timeline.
3 – Don’t bad-mouth your ex. This applies particularly if you have children together – your relationship with each other may have ended, but your children’s relationship with their other parent hasn’t. Don’t post anything negative about your ex as your children may read it and find it hurtful. This also applies to other family members and close friends who love both of you; it would be unfair to force them to take sides.
Having your first consultation with a solicitor can be nerve-wracking, but these tips will hopefully help you prepare and feel more confident about the first meeting.
1 – Be prepared - it is advisable to prepare a brief chronology of your case so that your solicitor can read this to gain a better understanding of your situation. This is just a short summary of the fact, including who is involved, the date the dispute started, the type of dispute, the key events and the status of your dispute. Take any previous correspondence and relevant documents with you, such as letters or emails from the other side or their solicitor, contracts, financial documents, accident or police reports, etc. If your consultation is to be over the phone, you can scan and email these to your solicitor before the consultation. Being prepared before the meeting means your solicitor will be in a better position to advise you.
2 – If you are having an initial phone consultation, make sure you are in a private, quiet area so there is no background noise or disruptions. This will also allow you to speak freely with your solicitor without worrying about being overheard by colleagues or others. If the meeting is at the solicitor’s office, you will be in a private room, so you won’t need to worry about being overheard.
Middle-aged people are increasingly choosing to live together rather than get married. This is especially noticeable within the 50-64 age group of people who have never married, where cohabitating relationships are increasing year on year. In 2002, just 6.1% of those in the 50-64 age group who had never married were in a cohabiting relationship. However, in 2017, this figure rose sharply to 12.9%. 1
Family law solicitors are explaining that the increase is most likely due to fears held by one or both parties that, if they marry, they would lose a substantial amount of their assets and wealth in a future divorce settlement.
Cohabiting couples are not afforded the same legal protection as married couples in the event of the relationship ending. The myth of common-law marriage persists and often leads unmarried couples to wrongly assume they will be able to claim a share of assets owned by their partner should they separate. When an unmarried couple separate, they will each keep any assets and bank accounts that are in their own names. If there are any jointly owned assets, then the law will assume that each party has an equal share of ownership and that the assets should be shared accordingly. Some provision is made for couples with young children under section 1 of The Children Act 1989 – but this offers no permanent solution for the parent living with the children.