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Tying the knot – what to consider before you do

It seems that almost since before the lockdown even began, people I speak to have been saying that a rise in divorces and relationship breakdowns seems inevitable.  Sadly, there may well be some truth to this.  There are a myriad of reasons why the current health crisis will impact upon people’s relationships: additional stress caused by financial difficulties, bereavement, the pressures of spending a lot of time with just one person in one environment, the stress of trying to work at home while juggling child care issues to name but a few.

With this sad reality seemingly accepted by so many, I was heartened to read the BBC’s article this weekend, entitled ‘Coronavirus: The couples for whom love doesn’t wait’.  It seems that on the brighter side of life, the lockdown has actually proved to be a relationship-affirming experience for some couples.  The BBC reports signs that engagements have not dropped nearly as much as had been expected.  I know from people I have spoken to that the initiation of the lockdown actually encouraged some new couples to ‘make the leap’ to living together for the duration, rather than choosing not to see each other for an undefined period of time.  And of course, there are those who say we can expect a baby boom in the near future!

For those taking these exciting next steps in their relationship, there can be legal issues which it is important to consider.  For example, when preparing to ‘tie the knot’, couples may wish to give consideration to putting in place a pre-nuptial agreement.  In our experience, this is becoming a lot more common, with couples choosing to make provision for a simpler and less stressful way of dealing with practicalities, just in case things don’t work out as they hoped.  In my view, this isn’t cynical and it does not undermine the sanctity of the union; it simply allows couples to make decisions about their respective futures at a time when they still want the best for each other.  Key reasons why couples choose to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement include:

  • a desire to protect one or both party’s inherited or family wealth;
  • to recognise a disparity in financial contributions to the relationship; and
  • when entering into a second marriage, the preservation of one or both party’s assets for their own children.

Another important consideration, which arises when unmarried couples buy a property together, is whether to take advice as to how the property should be ‘held’ by the couple, to reflect their respective contributions (monetary or other) and their intentions for the future.  There are two ways in which to ‘hold’ a property as joint owners: tenants in common in equal or unequal shares or joint tenants (where neither party has a divisible share).  Often, this is given little thought by couples buying properties, and sadly my experience shows that disputes can arise on the subsequent sale of a property, following a breakdown of the relationship, because what was agreed ‘over the kitchen table’ is not what the Land Registry documents for the property record.  Unfortunately, when facing the decision about what to instruct the conveyancers to do, couples rarely take independent legal advice, despite the fact that they may have conflicting interests in the decision they are facing.  By taking independent legal advice about how the Court approaches disputes over who should get what out of the property on sale, both parties can come to an informed decision, which can then be properly recorded, and avoid disputes at a later date.

Moral of the story?  Whenever embarking on important next steps in your relationship, it is important to consider how to plan for that.  Picking the new curtains or choosing your wedding venue are the fun parts but it is worth looking at the practical points too.  Rayden Solicitors are here to help you at every stage of the journey.

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