Some people are thrilled at the prospect of a day dedicated to romance while others might understandably prefer to curl up with their Netflix subscription until the day has finally passed them by.
For those of us lucky enough to be in the first category, however, tonight might prove the perfect opportunity to discuss what the next step will be in a blossoming relationship.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to think of anything less romantic than using that discussion to dissect the legal implications of your future as a couple. Yet the choices made in the early stages of a long-term relationship can inadvertently cause serious problems further down the line when the seemingly obvious rights of you or your partner aren’t respected by an out-of-date legal system.
It’s human nature to put off dealing with things which we find awkward or difficult but understanding your rights within a relationship can be an empowering decision and a great step towards ensuring that you and your partner have built your relationship around clear and honest communication.
The Legal Perspective
Tetiana Bersheda, the founder of the legal knowledge platform LexSnap, has heard from countless clients who wish they had been properly informed about the effects that the law could have on their relationship.
“Working out exactly what that ‘next step’ is can be an exciting yet nerve-wracking time for many couples. It’s a decision which is unique to every relationship and thankfully in the 21st century, there are a great many ways of defining a loving relationship.”
“Unfortunately, the legal system often lags behind changing societal attitudes and people are often shocked at the stark inequality that still exists between the rights of married and unmarried partners, regardless of the length of the relationship. Nobody should feel coerced into marriage by a legal emergency which is why it’s essential that you know your rights as early as possible.”
The chart below can help those living in England and Wales get a quick sense of how the law might affect them or their partner, no matter how you eventually decide to define your relationship.
Your Relationship Rights
- Banking: You and your partner can share a bank account regardless of whether you’re married or even co-habiting. Anyone can open a bank account together and both parties have equal access to the account.
- Children: Currently, an unmarried father only has parental responsibility for his child if he’s registered on the child’s birth certificate. Prior to 2006, a father only received parental responsibility if he’d entered into an agreement with the child’s mother or with the court. Unfortunately, this difference can potentially lead to problems if a couple splits up.
- Inheritance: Only a married couple or a couple in a civil partnership can inherit from each other tax-free. Otherwise, if the assets are above the tax-free threshold of £325,000 then your partner must pay a 40% inheritance tax. Legally, you will be treated as if you were strangers.
- Home Ownership: If a house is solely, rather than jointly owned, and a couple breaks up, their marital status can have a big impact. If a couple is unmarried then in England and Wales, the unnamed partner will have no automatic rights to the property and will have to go to court to prove that they’ve a right to the property through contributions to the mortgage etc. In contrast, if a married couple splits, the shared home is usually automatically counted as a joint asset.
The ‘Common Law Marriage’ Myth:
There is a common misconception that any couple who have lived together for a long period, particularly if they have had children, shared earnings or split the purchase of a home, are granted similar rights to a married couple through a ‘common law marriage’. Perhaps the reason why this myth continues to persist is that it makes sense but unfortunately, for the moment at least, the only way to give your relationship the same status as a married couple is to formally get married.
If this has made you concerned about your relationship rights, don’t panic! The best way forward is to find out more information specific to your situation. One option would be to approach a solicitor with your concerns so that you can plan together for the legal future of you and your partner.
If you don’t yet feel ready for such a big step or believe that you need specific and reliable legal advice but don’t quite need to hire a solicitor, there are other options available to you.
There is a copious amount of free legal information on the web but if you’d prefer to streamline the process and gain access to very affordable but clear and trustworthy advice, the legal technology platform LexSnap offers a solution. With LexSnap you can have your legal questions answered instantly online from a knowledge base of expert legal information provided by top-tier solicitors on relationship and family law matters, which can help you clarify your position with confidence.
Whatever you decide, it’s important to have as much legal knowledge as possible so that you can make the best choices for your relationship’s future this Valentine’s Day.