UK

Unmarried couples: How we manage our money

  • 9 November 2011
  • From the section UK

The Supreme Court has given its judgement on the property rights of unmarried couples in England and Wales who split up.

It ruled that a man who left his partner nearly 20 years ago is not entitled to half the value of the house they shared, but is entitled to 10%.

So how have other unmarried couples been managing their money until now?

Karin Davies and Steven Livingstone

Karin and Steven were going out together for a year when Karin fell pregnant. They moved in together in Bridgend and had a baby girl, Janie.

Karin Davies and Steven Livingston with their daughter, Janie
If Karin and Steven buy a house they plan to draw up a declaration of trust

Six years on, the family live in a rented house in Aberystwyth, and are saving for a deposit to buy a house. A second baby is on the way.

Steven, a probate clerk, is determined to draw up a declaration of trust once they buy to protect each of their investments, should they split up.

"We don't really see it as holding back from one and other - it's part and parcel of modern life.

"As time goes on, if we do get married, we could tear that up."

For the moment, both say they are happy as they are and would rather spend their money on a house than a wedding.

Steven, 27, doubts marriage would make a difference in how they handle their money.

"I think we already do things as if we were married - each of us should have freedom with our money," he says.

"If I considered property rights as a reason to get married, I think my partner would tell me where to stick it," jokes Steven.

He believes it is time the law caught up with changing society.

"Married couples do get better protection - it does seem to be rather unfair, but then people have the opportunity to marry."

"I'm not overly-fussed about getting married. The only reason might be if the kids want it," says Karin, 26, who is not currently working.

Should they split both are pragmatic. "We haven't got a dog. We would close down the joint account. I would be paying child maintenance and we would go our separate ways," says Steven.

If it were after buying a house, Karin says: "If Steven puts in 25% of the equity and I put in 10%, we'll get that percentage back, then split the rest equally."

Kate and Nick (not their real names)

Money management has been the source of such frustration for Kate and her partner, that she has asked not to give her real name.

The two of them got together eight years ago. Both owned their own flats so two years ago they decided to move into Kate's while Nick renovated his.

They then sold both properties in order to buy a house together for them and their baby.

Nick, 38, insisted the purchase should be on a strictly 50/50 basis, but this raised problems, says Kate.

Both were to contribute £300,000 - as a deposit and in mortgage repayments - for their new £600,000 south London home. But Kate, 39, felt she could have contributed more after making a considerable sum from the sale of her flat.

"Our options were reduced," she says. "We could have got a bigger house - somewhere with a garden as opposed to the postage stamp we have."

She believes that, had they been married, making equal contributions would not have been an issue.

"I do think life would be easier if we did get married. There's a security, or at least a sense of security, from marriage that alleviates a lot of anxieties."

Should the relationship end, they have no provision in place.

"We have not had the discussion about what we would do if we split up.

"We have invested all our money in the house. It would be complicated - there's no pot of money to buy another house if we split up."

Why had they not had the conversation? "I suppose I don't know how many married people have that conversation," Kate reflects.

She has doubts, however, as to whether putting cohabiting couples on a legal par with married couples could work.

There are issues such as: When do you become cohabiting? Are you entitled to a share of your partner's whole estate, including his earnings, she says.

If that were the case, couples would need to think very carefully before cohabiting, she added.

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