This week we are helping to raise awareness of the legal issues facing couples planning to cohabit. In our earlier blog we looked at the legal issues surrounding cohabitation and why a couple might want to seek a Cohabitation Agreement. As part of this process we would like to introduce you to Tom and Rebecca to really bring the issues surrounding cohabitaion to life.
Tom and Rebecca first met in 1998 at a dinner party. Their relationship moved fairly quickly and, a few months later, they decided to buy a home and move in together. Their home was purchased in joint names, although Rebecca paid all of the £25,000 deposit. Tom worked in finance and Rebecca worked as a retail assistant. Tom met the majority of the mortgage payments, but their finances became intermingled.
Two years later, Tom decided to purchase three “buy to let” properties using his bonuses to pay the 15% deposits required. The three buy to let properties were purchased in Tom’s sole name. Rebecca helped Tom to decorate the properties so they could be rented out and she then helped him to find tenants. In 2004, Rebecca also contributed some money which she had inherited to help refurbish the properties, although she did not keep records of this and she and Tom now had different recollections of how much she contributed.
Rebecca gave up her job as a retail assistant in 2005 when their daughter, Sarah, was born. Sarah is now four years old.
Tom consulted with us, as he had found out that Rebecca had started an affair. He believed that his relationship with Rebecca was over and therefore wanted legal advice.
At the outset, both Tom and Rebecca felt strongly that the other was trying to take more than their fair share from the division of the properties and each was threatening to apply to Court to resolve the issues between them. Tom was angry about Rebecca’s affair and Rebecca felt that Tom was deliberately not giving her credit for her contributions to the buy to let properties.
In the end, both parties’ solicitors were in agreement that the best course of action was to try to reach a negotiated settlement before starting Court proceedings, which would inevitably be time-consuming, expensive and highly stressful. Tom and Rebecca realised that it would also not help them to co-operate in parenting Sarah in the future if they were at loggerheads in Court proceedings.
The issues surrounding the end of Tom’s and Rebecca’s relationship were eventually settled when they attended mediation, with each having the benefit of advice from their own solicitors between mediation sessions. Tom and Rebecca agreed that:
- Rebecca would retain the family home;
- Tom would retain his buy to let properties;
- They would share the care of Sarah; and
- Tom would pay child maintenance for Sarah in accordance with the Child Maintenance Service guidelines.
Cohabitation disputes can be extremely complex, (including the possibility of a Schedule 1 claim made in accordance with schedule 1 to The Children Act 1989) particularly if couples do not specify what shares in property they have when property is purchased. It is sensible to take advice from a specialist family solicitor and either enter into a cohabitation agreement or execute a Declaration of Trust before purchasing property with your partner.