Love and property

It’s Valentine’s Day or and “love is in the air”. A love-struck unmarried client calls to say she is selling her own house and moving into her boyfriend’s house.

Leaving aside the congratulations and the romance (well we are, after all, heartless lawyers) the only response can be “Is that really a good idea? Have you considered taking legal advice upon this?” (well, we would say that wouldn’t we?).

We ask, “What will happen if you break up after one month, one year, ten years or even longer? What will happen to your boyfriend’s house then? What will happen to the money you’ve paid towards living there?” The response: “Oh... I hadn’t thought about that...”

Bringing an air of experience into the conversation we explain that too often when a relationship breaks down, the main issue of dispute between the parties (leaving aside the dog and the CD collection of course) is the home. If the home remains in the ownership of the boyfriend, she may not have any legal rights over the property despite paying towards it or carrying out improvements upon it.

“What about common law marriage?” she asks. “Doesn’t exist” is the response.

At that point we explain that property can be owned as joint tenants or tenants in common or failing that the complexities of trust law.... at which point clients generally look bemused.

“You need to talk this through with your boyfriend and consider entering into a cohabitation agreement” we say. “This will assist in a relationship breakdown as it will set out how money and property should be divided if you split up, and it will cost a lot less than a dispute between you both”.

“I think I need to make an appointment to see you” she says.

“That is very wise” we reply.