Living with a partner or spouse

Moving in with a partner, spouse, or civil partner is a big step. This page looks at the things you need to think about before taking the plunge. At this stage, you won't want to think about what will happen if things go wrong and you split up, but it's important to understand the rights you would have and to be prepared.

Living together can be exciting and fun. It may also be more convenient than living separately, and will often work out cheaper as well. However, it's important that you think through carefully the implications of living together as a couple. It's not just a question of adapting to another person's lifestyle and fighting over the TV remote control – living together as a couple can affect your finances and your right to stay in your home.

Things to think about before moving in together

The things you will need to think about when you move in with your partner may vary depending on your age and other personal circumstances. For example, if you are a young person moving in with a partner for the first time, you may need to think about setting ground rules to avoid arguments over bills, hogging the bathroom and whose turn it is to do the washing up.

If you are a home owner, you'll need to decide what kind of financial contribution your partner will make to the running of the home. If you have children, you will need to make sure that your rights to stay in the home are as secure as possible.

At this stage in your relationship, you probably don't want to think about splitting up, but it's important to consider what your rights will be if things go wrong later on, for example:

  • will your partner be able to throw you out of your home?
  • will you be able to ask them to leave?
  • will you be financially dependent on your partner to pay the rent, mortgage or bills?
  • what would happen if they stopped paying their share?

If you are not married or in a civil partnership, you could find yourself with very limited rights.

Cohabitation contracts

It is a good idea to formalise your living arrangements to avoid any disagreements about what should happen if one of you wants to sell. You and your partner can draw up a cohabitation contract setting out the rights and responsibilities you both have, and this could cover details such as:

  • how you will divide up and pay the mortgage and household bills
  • what will happen if one of you wants to sell the property
  • whether you can extend the mortgage term, or increase borrowing
  • what rights you each will have to stay in the home if you split up
  • what rights you will have to any shared belongings (for example, furniture or a car) if you split up.

Drawing up a contract will make you think through the issues you'll be facing as a couple and could help you avoid future arguments over bills and other domestic responsibilities. In addition, it will provide proof of your original intentions when you moved in together, which could help you to resolve your situation amicably should you split up.

The contract may not be legally binding if:

  • it contains unfair terms, or
  • it is not drawn up or witnessed correctly, or
  • it is not in the best interests of any children you may have.

So it is important to get advice before entering into a cohabitation agreement, and to get it drawn up by an expert - preferably a solicitor.

Setting ground rules

Living together involves a lot of compromise, so you may want to lay down some ground rules if you are moving in together. For example, you may want to decide:

  • who will be responsible for which domestic chores
  • whether you should phone your partner to let her/him know if you are going to be home late
  • whether to ask your partner before inviting friends to stay
  • whether you will have any pets.

If you are drawing up a cohabitation contract, you may want to include some of these ground rules in the agreement.

Financial issues

You will also need to discuss with your partner how you will divide up the costs of renting or owning a home.

These will include:

  • rent or mortgage
  • council tax
  • domestic bills (for example, gas, electricity, telephone, TV licence)
  • day-to-day living expenses (for example, food and cleaning products).

You may wish to open a joint account to set aside money for the rent or mortgage, and other regular bills.

Benefits

If either of you are claiming benefits, this entitlement may be lost, or reduced if you move in together, as your partner's income will be taken into account when calculating the benefits.

You need to report changes like this to the relevant benefits agencies (for example, the council's housing benefit department or the Jobcentre Plus) as soon as possible if you move in with your partner, or your partner moves in with you. They will then check how this affects your benefits. You should do this as soon as possible, as you may have to pay money back if you are overpaid benefits.

What options are there?

There are various options for living together, such as:
  • getting a new place together - either renting accommodation or buying a home
  • moving into your partner's home
  • asking your partner to move into your home.

Whatever you decide to do, you should consider what rights you will have in the accommodation. This depends on your circumstances - see below for more information.

Living with your partner in rented accommodation

If you live in rented accommodation together, your rights will depend on:

  • the type of tenancy you have
  • whose name the tenancy is in
  • whether you are married/civil partners or not.

The law on relationship breakdown is complicated and you may need help from an advice centre or a solicitor.

Joint tenants

If you have a joint tenancy with your partner, you both have the same rights and responsibilities. You are both equally responsible for paying the rent and keeping to the terms of the tenancy agreement. If one of you can't pay your share, the other will be responsible for paying the whole of the rent. This will be the case whether you are married/civil partners or not.

Sole tenant

You or your partner are likely to be a sole tenant if you have moved into rented accommodation where they were already living, or if they have moved in with you.

Most tenancy agreements give you the right to live in the property together with your partner. However, it is best to check the tenancy agreement and speak to the landlord if you are planning to move in together. You may also want to ask the landlord to grant a joint tenancy, which will give both partners equal rights.

If you are not married, then the person whose name is not on the tenancy agreement will be an excluded occupier, and will have very few rights.

If you are married, your rights will be stronger (you will, for example, have the right to stay in the property until the court says you should leave, pay rent and get repairs done).

Separate tenancies

If you live together as a couple, you are unlikely to have separate tenancies. If you do, you will each only be responsible for paying your own share of the rent.

Rights if you or your partner own your home

If you and your partner live in accommodation that one or both of you owns, your rights will depend upon:

  • who owns the home
  • whether you are married/civil partners or not.

Joint owners

If you are joint owners, you will be both be responsible for paying the mortgage. If one of you cannot pay your share, the other will be responsible for paying the whole mortgage. This is the case even if one of you is not living at the property.

In addition, one partner cannot:

  • force the other partner to leave without a court order
  • rent out or sell the home without the other partner's agreement or a court order
  • take out a loan against the property without the other partner's agreement
  • alter the terms of the mortgage without the other partner's permission.

Sole owner

If one of you owns your home, only the owner will be responsible for paying the mortgage.

If you are married or in a civil partnership, the non-owner has a right to occupy the home, unless a court has ordered that they must be excluded.

The non-owner also has a right to make payments towards the mortgage, for example, if the owner moves out or stops paying. However, the non-owner cannot be held responsible for missed payments (though it may be necessary for them to do so in order to prevent the home being repossessed).

If the non-owner has registered home rights, then neither of you can:

  • rent out or sell the property without getting the other's agreement or a court order
  • take out a loan against the property without the other's agreement.

If you are not married or in a civil partnership, the non-owner can choose to make contributions towards the mortgage or the running of the home. However, this does not mean that the non-owner will be entitled to a financial share of the home, unless you have a legal agreement that says that they will.

In addition, the owner will be able to:

  • evict the other person without getting a court order
  • rent out or sell the home without the other's agreement
  • take out a loan against the property without the other's consent.

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