So they’ve popped the million-dollar question and now you’re engaged – what’s next? Going into an engagement is certainly an exciting time in one’s life and it can be easy to get swept up in the overwhelmingly positive emotions that surround planning your much anticipated wedding-day. However, no relationship is bullet-proof and so the importance of making sure that you are also taking the necessary steps to protect your interests, should your relationship breakdown at some point, is essential.
Living With Your Partner
Many modern-day couples end up spending an extended period of time being engaged before their marriage is actually officiated, and this often comes hand in hand with both partners cohabitating. However, contrary to popular belief, living together does not mean that you are entitled to any part of your partner’s assets in the event of your separation.
This widely held misconception arises from an ideology called ‘common law marriage’, which assumes that if a couple lives together for a long enough period of time, then they are considered to be ‘commonly married’ and are therefore entitled to the same legal protections as spouses. UK law dictates however that the only legitimate way to ensure that you would be able to make any such claims to a portion of your partner’s assets, should your engagement be called off, is to enter into a cohabitation agreement with your fiancé. This contract effectively sets out a framework for any responsibilities to be held by each partner, helping to avoid any disputes with regards to assets (property, savings, pensions etc), living costs, and the occupation of any property should they one day choose to separate and cease cohabitating, and any disputes in connection with inheritance in the event of the death of either party.
The fact that married couples are able to make claims against each other’s assets in the event of a divorce is not always a reassuring or desirable legality. As such, you may need to consider the benefits of putting in place a prenuptial agreement with your future husband or wife. Similar in some ways to a cohabitation agreement, a prenup allows you to:
- Choose how you both wish to divide your assets in the event of a divorce without a dispute
- Protect your personal assets and investments from being divided between you and your partner in the event of a divorce – thus allowing you to retain sole ownership of them
- Set out a clear-cut process for any financial arrangements to be carried out if and when you decided to dissolve your marriage
- Limit any inheritance claims in the event of death
Further, prenups can also act as a highly cost-effective ‘failsafe’ if your relationship breaks down by helping to avoid extended litigation and the associated high legal fees that are typical for many divorcees when arguing over ‘who gets what’.
Pre-registration agreements can achieve the same for those intending to enter into a civil partnership.
Other Things to Consider
Another less known fact about getting married is that, if you have a pre-existing Will, then it will automatically be revoked upon entering into your marriage and a new one will need to be drafted to replace it. The same also applies to getting divorced.
If you have children from a pre-existing relationship or your partner does, then it is also crucial to consider whether changes will need to be made to any existing child arrangements orders that are already in place with said ex-partners. Bear in mind that this can be a rather delicate and potentially time-intensive process if the partner in question chooses to be difficult about coming to an agreement. Resolving any such conflict prior to your new marriage should therefore be a priority and you may need to seek legal advice to carry this out.
Neil Graham, a Partner at Grayfords, comments as follows: “making a mutual commitment to share your life with someone, whether by way of marriage, civil partnership or cohabitation is a life changing event and one that is hopefully reciprocated. Every relationship experiences difficulties from time to time and there are many qualified therapeutic individuals available who can help overcome those difficulties if they arise. Although it is no longer possible to sue for breach of promise after an engagement comes to an end, limited claims can still arise from property ownership. It is worth considering a cohabitation agreement, a pre-nuptial agreement, or a post-nuptial agreement in advance to avoid an acrimonious dispute in the hopefully unlikely event it proves impossible to overcome any difficulties.”
Our solicitors are particularly skilled in family law disputes and have long-standing experience in dealing with a variety of cases in this field – whether that be divorces, prenups, child arrangements, injunctions, or financial arrangements. We understand the importance of being able to build a marriage on a solid foundation, always placing our clients’ best interests at the core of the work that we do. Don’t hesitate to book a free consultation to find out more if you are looking to get engaged, are soon to be married, or need legal advice for any family related issues.