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Lawyers Warning as Co-Habiting Rate Doubles

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Newly released statistics have shown the number of unmarried couples living  together has doubled over the past 17 years.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has highlighted there are now 2.9 million people across the UK who have set up home before taking the plunge and walking down the aisle – up from 1.5 million in 1996.

E family finance specialist Mercedes King-Jones, has used the ‘unsurprising’ ONS figures to dispel a number of myths the region’s unmarried couples often unwittingly believe when it comes to dividing their property and assets when their relationship breaks down.

Ms King-Jones, a partner at Midland law firm MFG Solicitors, said: “This latest government data shows unmarried couples who set up home together are now the fastest growing family model. It’s the way social attitudes have changed. Many couples will never feel the need to get married and even if they do it makes financial sense to get onto the property ladder before splashing out on an expensive wedding.

“But there are a number risks people are regularly overlooking which are having devastating financial consequences.

“Firstly, most people believe that if you live with your partner for a couple of years you automatically gain the same rights as a married couple as a ‘common law’ husband or wife. That’s a completely inaccurate myth as couples who merely live together have very limited rights over assets they do not personally own and no rights to maintenance.

“Those rights can cover some big financial issues over and above property ownership – such as disputes and inheritance. These are three of the most common issues co-habiting couples are stunned to find are more complicated than first believed and exactly why unmarried couples must take steps to prevent any unnecessary heartache if, for example, they separate.

“As a firm we have been championing a number of effective steps for co-habiting couples to secure their future wishes. For example, not enough couples are making joint or separate wills which can easily ensure possessions are passed on to their unmarried partner. Without a will unmarried partners have no right to any inheritance.

“On the property side we would like to see a growth in the number of unmarried couples looking to enter into ‘living together agreements’.

“These agreements not only act as a declaration of trust between a couple but they detail exactly what each person is entitled to when it comes to breaking up property ownership and expensive possessions. They are simple agreements and relatively inexpensive which leave both parties in no doubt if  relationship does breakdown.

“Both these agreements, and drafting a formal will, may sound obvious but across the region we see many people who have pushed things to the back of the queue until it’s too late.

Ms King-Jones, who has considerable experience in dealing with property disputes between co-habiting couples, added: “These latest statistics have really put the spotlight onto the growth of co-habiting and I welcome the debate they have driven across the region

“I am certain co-habiting figures will double again over the next 17 years but it’s important that those people fully understand their rights, the potential pitfalls and exactly which legal steps will not only set clear financial ground rules, but put a stop to much of the unnecessary heartache we see all too often today.”