Moving in with a partner, spouse, or civil partner is a big step. At this stage, you won’t want to think about what will happen if things go wrong and you split up, but it’s important to know your rights and be prepared.
It’s not just a question of adapting to another person’s lifestyle and fighting over the TV remote control; living together as a couple can affect your finances and your right to stay in your home.
Things to think about before moving in together
Download our checklist of things to think about before taking the plunge. Read it with your partner.
Things you will need to think about may vary depending on your age and other personal circumstances. For example, if you are a young person moving in with a partner for the first time, you may need to think about setting ground rules to avoid arguments over bills, hogging the bathroom and whose turn it is to do the washing up. If you are a home owner, you’ll need to decide what kind of financial contribution your partner will make to the running of the home. If you have children, you will need to make sure that your rights to stay in the home are as secure as possible.
Will your partner be able to throw you out of your home? Will you be able to ask them to leave? Will you be financially dependent on your partner to pay the rent, mortgage or bills? What would happen if they stopped paying their share? If you are not married or in a civil partnership, you could find yourself with very limited rights.
If you want to formalise your living arrangements, you and your partner can draw up a cohabitation contract setting out the rights and responsibilities you both have.
This could include details of, for example:
- how you will divide up and pay the rent or mortgage and household bills
- childcare arrangements
- what rights you each have to stay in the home if you split up
- what rights you will have to any shared belongings (for example, furniture or a car) if you split up.
Drawing up a contract will make you think through the issues you’ll be facing as a couple and could help you avoid future arguments over bills and other domestic responsibilities. In addition, it will provide proof of your original intentions when you moved in together, which could help you resolve your situation amicably should you split up.
The contract will not be legally binding unless it is drawn up by a solicitor. Even then, you won’t be able to enforce it in court if it contains unfair terms or is not in the best interests of any children you may have.
You will also need to discuss with your partner how you will divide up the financial responsibilities of renting or owning a home.
These will include:
- rent or mortgage
- council tax
- domestic bills (for example, gas, electricity, telephone, TV licence)
- day-to-day living expenses (for example, food and cleaning products).
You may wish to open a joint account to set aside money for the rent or mortgage, and other regular bills.
If either of you are claiming benefits, the amount of benefit you receive will be affected if you move in together, as your partner’s income will be taken into account when calculating the benefits.
You are legally required to report changes like this to the relevant benefits agencies (for example, the council’s Housing Benefit department or the Jobcentre Plus) as soon as possible if you move in with your partner, or your partner moves in with you. They will then check how this affects your benefits. You should do this as soon as possible, as you may have to pay money back if you are overpaid benefits or you may be prosecuted for fraud.
What options are there?
There are various options for living together:
- getting a new place together – either renting accommodation or buying a home
- moving into your partner’s home
- asking your partner to move into your home.
Whatever you decide to do, you should consider what rights you will have in the accommodation. This depends on your circumstances – see below for more information.
Living with your partner in rented accommodation
If you live in rented accommodation together, your rights will depend on:
- the type of tenancy you have
- whose name the tenancy is in
- whether you are married/civil partners or not.
If you have a joint tenancy with your partner, you both have the same rights and responsibilities. You are both equally responsible for paying the rent and keeping to the terms of the tenancy agreement. If one of you can’t pay your share, the other will be responsible for paying the whole of the rent. This will be the case whether you are married/civil partners or not.
Either you or your partner are likely to be a sole tenant if you have moved in with them, or if they have moved in with you.
Most tenancy agreements give you the right to live in the property together with your partner. However, it is best to check the tenancy agreement and speak to the landlord if you are planning to move in together. You may also want to ask the landlord to grant a joint tenancy, which will give both partners equal rights.
If you are not married, then the person whose name is not on the tenancy agreement will be an excluded occupier, and will have very few rights.
If you are married, your rights will be stronger (you will, for example, have the right to stay in the property until the court says you should leave, pay rent and get repairs done).
If you live together as a couple, you are unlikely to have separate tenancies. If you do, you will only be responsible for paying your share of the rent.
Rights if you or your partner own your home
If you and your partner live in accommodation that one of you owns, your rights will depend upon:
- who owns the home
- whether you are married/civil partners or not.
If you are joint owners, you will be both be responsible for paying the mortgage. If one of you cannot pay your share, the other will be responsible for paying the whole mortgage. This is the case even if one of you is not living at the property. You will both be responsible for any other payments towards the home, such as council tax, utility bills, and repairs or improvements.
In addition, one partner cannot:
- force the other partner to leave without a court order
- rent out or sell the home without the other partner’s agreement or a court order
- take out a loan against the property without the other partner’s agreement
- alter the terms of the mortgage without the other partner’s permission.
If one of you owns your home, only the owner will be responsible for paying the mortgage, unless you have a joint mortgage.
If you are married or in a civil partnership, the non-owner has a right to occupy the home, unless a court has ordered that they must be excluded.
The non-owner also has a right to make payments towards the mortgage, for example, if the owner moves out or stops paying. However, the non-owner cannot be held responsible for missed payments unless the court has ordered that they make payments.
Neither of you can:
force the other to leave without a court order
- rent out or sell the property without getting the other’s agreement or a court order
- take out a loan against the property without the other’s agreement.
If you are not married or in a civil partnership, the non-owner can choose to make contributions towards the mortgage or the running of the home. However, this does not mean that the non-owner will be entitled to a financial share of the home, unless you have a legal agreement that says that they will.
In addition, the owner may be able to:
- evict the other person without getting a court order
- rent or sell out the home without the other’s agreement
- take out a loan against the property without the other’s consent.
Where can I get more information?
See the relationship breakdown section for more information about your housing rights if you’re splitting up with your partner. Advice Now’s Living Together website gives more information about your rights if you live with your partner, and has a Living Together Agreement that you can download.
You can speak with a specialist adviser via email, call 08000 495 495 or visit an advice centre near you.