There are lots of expressions I don’t understand.

Like, “you want to have your cake and eat it”.  Well of COURSE I want to have my cake and eat it.  What on earth is the point of having cake that you cannot eat.  It’s not art. It’s food!

Or how about “working mother” (or father come to that).  The suggestion that if you are a stay at home parent, you’re not actually working.  Anyone who stays at home to looks after their children full time rather than being able to escape to the office deserves a medal and my undying respect.

But my current favourite is “as safe as houses” because often a house is not nearly as safe as it should be, and not just the ones that have been badly built.

With the decline in couples getting married, and the increase in people moving in together, you might think that you are just as safe buying a property with your significant other (or moving into their property) as you would be with a spouse.  Unfortunately, the law sees cohabiting couples in a different way from how they would see a married couple, and you may not have as much protection as you might think.  The Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (or TOLATA as its affectionately known in the industry) gives parties the right to make claims against a property, even if they are not actually married to the person that owns it or registered as an owner, based on their conduct, such as contributing towards the purchase price or paying towards the mortgage or upkeep of the property.

So a good starting point to avoid failing into TOLATA related traps is to make sure that going into the relationship and into the property, you have an agreement as to what each of you are putting in, and what each of you would get out if things were to change.  This isn’t just if things go wrong between you, but if something where to happen to one of you such as death or bankruptcy.  If you are not married, your other half’s family may have more of a right to claim a share of the property than you realise, especially if you haven’t got wills in place.

It’s also important to make sure that you either stick to that agreement, or you draw up something new if there were to be a change in your circumstances.  For example, if it was originally agreed that you were going to contribute equally to the mortgage, but then one of you decides to stay home to care for the children, in the absence of a clear agreement, the one who went out to work and earned the money to pay the bills could have an argument for saying that this entitles them to a bigger share of the property, even though the child carer may say that they need more money because they have been out of the work place for so long.  A court is less likely to take this into account than it would if you were married, so a well drafted agreement could give you the insurance that you need.

So if you can’t decide on what to buy your other half for Christmas, and you’re thinking that perhaps the key to your front door is a romantic gesture, don’t forget to attach a well thought out cohabitation agreement too.  You might think that this is the most unromantic thing I’ve ever said, but trust me when I say that if something where to happen to you, an agreement like that could make the difference between the love of your life being safe for the rest of their lives, or out on the street faster than Scrooge could say bah humbug.  Personally, I think that’s about as special as it gets!

Kleyman & Co Solicitors. The full service law firm.  Looking out for the negatives so you can enjoy the positives.