Sunday, 13 November 2011

Cohabitation and the effect of Kernott and Jones

The case of Kernott and Jones has been in the media and followed by all those that practice in family law. Talvinder, the Director at Leeds Family Law says "this case highlights the need for the development and reform of Cohabitation laws which are governed by parts of the law that relate to property, trusts and children. Whilst these laws serve a purpose they do not effectively deal with the family dynamics of the modern family. Many chose to cohabit and have children without realising that they have insufficient laws to protect them if the relationship breaks down.'

It is most important that if you decide not to enter into a marriage with your partner, that steps are taken to protect your interests. For example, in one of my earlier articles (Titled This is my home - isn't it?) I touched upon the issue of Cohabitation Agreements or Living Together Agreements as they are commonly known. It is important that the parties to a relationship consider their dynamics and provide for what will happen in the event that they separate. This is not the most romantic idea. Consider the situation if you moved into a home that your partner owned and then separated. Legally the person who is the registered owner of the property retains all the interest. The most dire situation would be the death of the person who owns this property and the remaining partner finding that they have to leave their home. If there is no Will the property will pass under the rules of Intestacy to the deceased partners family members. The bereaved partner would lose their home.

The case of Kernott and Jones awarded a 10% share of the property held in joint names to one of the cohabitants and 90% to the current occupant partner. The facts of the case are that Kernott and Jones lived together in a property for eight years. Then Kernott (male) moved out leaving Jones (female) in the home with 2 children. Jones continued to make the mortgage payments and maintained the home for 13 years. The property remained registered in their joint names for the duration of this separation. Kernott waited until the children were grown up before he issued a financial claim to realise his interest in the family home. Kernott and Jones were not married. A local County Court Judge ruled that Kernott should recieve 10%. Kernott appealed this decision seeking a larger share. The High Court upheld the County Court ruling on appeal. Kernott appealed again to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal overturned the County Court and High Court decision and ruled that each should receive 50%. Jones appealed and the case was considered by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the original decision and awarded 10% to Kernott and 90% to Jones. This was a hugely anticipated decision and welcomed by family lawyers who have long campaigned for recognition of the unmarried family and supported the need for reform and development of this area of law. There is recognition that the court will depart from the presumption that the property should be divided equally between the two joint owners if either have failed to take steps to address this position at the time that they separate. So essentially, the decision shows that the Court will depart from this view and consider the individual contributions made by each party. This is an important step for Cohabitation laws and the need for the reform of the laws relating to Cohabitation has never been highlighted more than in this case.

Our previous Government, and this Government, shy away from the area of cohabitation because it is very complex and there is the view that it would undermine the principle of the marriage if cohabitants were given similar rights. However, the fact remains that until such time this area of law is reformed all those that chose to Cohabit remain vulnerable and have a sense of uncertainty surrounding their financial security should they separate.

Scotland have welcomed and introduced laws in relation to Cohabitation but our Government seems reluctant to do so despite support from many members of the public and in particular, recognition from Solicitors and Barristers alike that cohabitants needs more legal rights to protect them.

So what steps can you take to protect yourself?  The first most important issue is that you obtain advice from Solicitors so that you can regulate how you will deal with the financial matters in the event that you separate. You will also need to consider provisions in your Will to ensure that your intentions on your death are stipulated should you wish to pass the property to your partner.

It is also important to ensure that provisions on how financial contributions will be made towards the property and how the home will be maintained and in what shares if there is not going to be an equal division upon separation. This is where Cohabitation Agreements may assist and it is important that these are considered early on. Any relationship will have complications when it breaks down and the agreement cannot help the emotional fall out that will occur. However, the agreement can serve to deal with the practicalities which can assist is resolving the issues surrounding finances.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Is Collaborative Law for me?

This new process and the words Collaborative Law are creating a buzz with many family lawyers and it is important to explain exactly what this process entails and whether is it suitable for you. Talvinder, the Director at Leeds Family Law, qualified as a Resolution Accredited Collaborative Lawyer on the 11th November 2011. Talvinder has been a solicitor in the practice of family law for nearly a decade and brings this new service to her firm. The collaborative process offers clients a solution to resolving their family disputes without the use of the adversarial system and moves away from the traditional solicitors practice.

So what is Collaborative Law? This is a process through which the husband, wife and their respective Solicitors meet in a four way meeting to discuss the issues that are concerning to both of them. In the traditional approach, both solicitors would work independently to each other and it is not common that all parties would meet to discuss the issues as openly as they would at a four way meeting with all the parties. In the Collaborative process both parties and Solicitors sign an agreement in which they pledge not to take this matter to Court and commit to trying to reach a conclusion by working together. The Solicitors ensure that the parties interested are protected and the pace at which progress is made is dictated by the parties. This process offers the advantage of reaching a solution that works for the whole family and solicitors do not become positional as they would in the traditional adversarial process of going to Court.

However, for the solution to benefit all concerned both parties must be willing to engage fully in the meetings and work towards a solution. Within this meeting there is still the financial disclosure of all assets and liabilities that both parties must provide and those that believe that they can enter this process and walk rough shod over the other party are seriously mistaken. The Collaborative process would demand just as rigorous an approach from the Solicitors in obtaining financial disclosure without which a fair financial settlement could not be reached.

The issues relating to Contact and Residence are resolved in much the same way with both parties being able to recognise the impact that Separation and Divorce have on the children. Both parties would discuss issues of concern and in order to resolve such issues must recognise the importance of the relationship of the non resident parent with the children. An ability for mutual respect as parents is essential for this process to be successful.

The Collaborative process engages the parties and their solicitors in a way where they work as a team to reach the most beneficial outcome for the whole family. The disadvantage is that if the process breaks down the Solicitors engaged in the Collaborative process cannot represent you in Court and you must instruct solicitors that have not engaged in this Collaborative process. This ensures that the solicitors do not have a vested interest in breaking down the communications within the Collaborative process so that they can add to your legal costs by taking the same case to Court. The other disadvantage is that if the process breaks down then you have to start the process of negotiations again and adopt the traditional, adversarial Court approach.

It is pleasing to report however, that those who engage in the Collaborative process openly and with honesty are extremely likely to resolve their case within this process. Statistics show that 97% of cases that are undertaken within the Collaborative process will settle this way. This percentage is higher than those cases that are referred to Mediation services.

There are Solicitors that offer a similar service and conduct round table meetings but the process is not Collaborative and the Solicitors may not be Accredited Resolution Collaborative Lawyers. It is important that if you want to engage in this process you instruct an Accredited Specialist who is trained and able to conduct matters in the correct way. You can find details of Collaborative Lawyers on the Resolution Website at http://www.resolution.org.uk/.

If you want to know more about this process then contact Talvinder Penaser who is an Accredited Collaborative Lawyer on 0113 3944145.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Winter Brides - Do you have a Pre-Nuptial Agreement?

Getting married is one of the happiest days of a woman's life. Many hours have been spent dreaming of this day as a little girl, trying on your mothers 6 inch high heels and pearl necklaces and waiting for your Prince to come and sweep you off your delicate little feet. Never in any fairy tales would any bride have thought " I really must take steps to protect my financial position and think about what would happen if the marriage breaks down." In modern society, happily ever after is not for everyone.

One of the most important factors that any Bride (or Groom for that matter) must consider today is the possibility of what will happen if the marriage should end. Cue the Pre Nuptial Agreements which were previously reserved for those rich and famous couples who had money to throw at teams of lawyers who would thrash out an agreement and not the let the nuptials take place until each person had signed the dotted line. 

Thinking about the Pre Nuptial Agreement is hardly the most romantic concept of planning the end of the marriage before it has begun but more and more people are starting to think about their future in this way. In reality, so much time is spent planning every last detail of the wedding right down to the colour of the napkins, so it would seem practical to also think about the larger issues such as financial security in the event that the marriage ended. 

So what is the Pre Nuptial Agreement? This is an agreement which is entered into before the marriage or civil union takes place. The Agreement will usually deal with the financial aspects that usually follow on from a divorce. The Agreement can deal with the family home, the spousal maintenance and other assets to include savings, shares and other items such as property owned prior to the marriage, inheritance, loan agreements and debts. 

For the spouse that is bringing the most into the marriage or for those where there is a large disparity in income or assets, a Pre Nuptial Agreement would serve them well if properly drafted and procedurally correct. There is also the issue that if for one spouse this is not the first marriage, they may seek to protect the inheritance of the children from their previous marriage and as such Agreements can serve such individuals well.

A Pre Nuptial Agreement is not as simple a process as drafting the agreement and having both spouses sign the document. There are many factors that need to be considered when drafting such an agreement to ensure that one party is not placed under undue pressure or strain to sign the agreement against their consent. 

In order to ensure that the Agreement is correctly drafted there has to be mutual exchange of financial disclosure between the parties and the provisions of any such agreement must be fair. Such provisions should not be designed to deprive one party of their matrimonial claims against the other. The terms of the agreement must be fair and there must be proper planning in terms of any existing children and future children. Such an agreement cannot be used to limit the financial support that is available for the children. Provided that the Agreement is fair, it will be held as a binding agreement and given weight in the event that the marriage ended.

A Pre Nuptial Agreement is almost like having insurance. It is a document that will only be used in the event that the marriage ended. If the marriage continues the Agreement will serve no purpose. However, it is something that is a reflection of how modern society operates and allows each individual the freedom to decide whether they wish to discuss this aspect of their relationship before they enter into the marriage. 

If you are entering into a marriage or a civil partnership and you would like to discuss and consider a Pre Nuptial Agreement please contact Leeds Family Law Ltd for your FREE consultation.

Leeds Family Law Website

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Domestic Abuse Does Affect Children

The effect that Domestic Abuse has on the children within any relationship has been recognised by the professionals such as GP's, Health Visitors, Solicitors and Barristers for many years. However, when a woman left her home due to the abuse suffered at the hands of her partner with her children, the common practice would be for the partner responsible for the abuse to issue an application through the Court for contact with the children.

In this article I will highlight some of the changes that have been made to the Law that ensure that the impact that domestic abuse has on children is recognised. This article will also explain the manner in which the Court and the Police can now deal with those that are subject to Orders as a result of their behaviour. I will highlight briefly the impact of the changes and the importance of recognising this abusive behaviour and accepting that this will have had an impact on the children that have witnessed it. I also refer in the article to the mother being subjected to the abuse and the father being the perpetrator. This is for ease of writing and is the usual event that solicitors are presented with. The law however applies equally to whether it is the mother or father being subjected to this abuse. 

It is often the case that the mother would be concerned about the motivation of the father in seeking contact and raise issues about his ability to care for the child and the lack of involvement with the child during the relationship. The practice was that where there was no risk to the child or any evidence of it, then there was an assumption that contact should take place. The Children Act 1989 is the legislation that governs this practice. Changes were required to be made which would allow the domestic violence and the impact that this would have on the child to be considered as one of the factors in deciding whether contact was in the interests of the child.

Within the Children Act 1989 there is the Welfare Checklist which is used to identify the risks to the child and ensure that the interests of the child are of paramount consideration in any court proceedings. S.120 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 ensured that within this welfare checklist the factor of "impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another" on children is also recognised. 

It is now accepted that violence does have an effect on children and although in general there is some logic to the concept that children benefit from having positive relationships with both parents, this is not always the case where there has been domestic violence. The child may have seen the abuse and the physical injuries that have been caused to the mother by the father and may be scared and frightened to say how they feel about contact. In many cases children have grown used to keeping the peace and fear that they may upset their father who may then abuse their mother in return. It is important that these effects are recognised and dealt with within the framework of any proceedings relating to children. 

The person inflicting the abuse may not recognise and accept that their behaviour is incorrect and there are parenting courses and domestic violence programmes that such individuals can be ordered to attend. In the event that they fail to take the necessary steps to improve their behaviour and understand the inappropriateness of their actions, then it may be that the contact is not in the interests of the child. Those that attend the courses and make the necessary changes may find that the contact is supervised to start with, but it will gradually progress at the pace of the child and can flourish. If however, the abusive behaviour continues after Court proceedings have ended then the impact of this can be looked at again by returning the matter to the Court. 

The Court process in itself will investigate the allegations of Domestic Violence further and make findings where necessary to allow the CAFCASS officers to complete their work and make the necessary recommendation to ensure that contact takes place in the safest possible way. In making the recommendation CAFCASS will have considered the abusive behaviour and its impact on both the children and mother and consider how this effects both mother and father of the child in any future arrangement made.

As with any process, there will be cases where false allegations have been made by the mother or father simply to prevent the contact from taking place. This is unfortunate, but as with any practice there will be those select few that will abuse the process. 

Those cases where there are genuine concerns about the safety of the child and the mother and motivation of the father for seeking contact can be processed more effectively in light of the changes made.

In addition to this the changes made to Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996 make the breach of a Non Molestation Order an automatic criminal offence. These changes were affected by the Domestic Violence Crimes and Victims Act 2004. This means that where there is an injunction in place prohibiting one person from using or threatening to use violence against the other, and this order is breached, the Police are able to arrest and deal with the person breaching this order within the Criminal Courts. 

Domestic Abuse is now also recognised as having many different forms and there is further recognition that this is not just physical harm but can also be financial, emotional, sexual and psychological.

Therefore if you are in a relationship and there has been domestic abuse within that relationship, it is important that before agreeing any contact between your partner and the children, you obtain legal advice. Although it may look to you as though you need to keep the peace and avoid any further issues with your partner's abusive behaviour, you may be damaging your children by not recognising and understanding what they may have heard and witnessed. It is also important to recognise that the behaviour of an abusive individual needs to be addressed and if it is not then this can have an adverse effect on what your children believe to be acceptable behaviour. This as we all know, will have a negative impact on how their future relationships may develop. 

If you are experiencing any of the behaviour highlighted in this article then please contact Leeds Family Law on 0113 3944145 for a FREE CONSULTATION.

Monday, 8 August 2011

It's Just a Slap Now and Then - It's Not Violence Really - is it?

The number of family cases that I have had conduct of in my 11 years of legal practice means that I am rarely surprised or shocked by what my client is about to say. Many often start with ‘This is really bad but............'. I can almost guarantee that I will have heard worse than what they are about to tell me. Unfortunately, this is a harsh reality of doing the job that I do. It is not always pleasant to know what has been going on behind closed doors.

What does shock me is the number of cases that have some form of violence or abuse within them. The definition of violence together with the recognition of the different elements of violence within the law today is no small achievement. The definition agreed by the Government in 2004 of violence against men and women is "any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse {psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional} between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members , regardless of gender or sexuality". 

Many external agencies have campaigned tirelessly with the full support of legal professionals to have the many types of violent behaviour recognised. If 11 years ago you presented to the Police and said that your partner or husband did not give you any money so you were bullied, intimidated and frightened of him and believed that he would hurt you, you would be shown the door. If there was no physical violence and no black eye or bruises to prove the violence then that was as far as any help went. Even then many that tried to get help would argue that there was no help at all available to them. 

I am not sure that everyone remembers the case of Kiranjit Alhuwalia in 1989; this woman set her husband alight whilst he was asleep after 10 years of mental abuse, torture and rape. She was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of murder. She was separated from her two young children before a campaign secured her release. Ultimately, Ahluwalia's struggle helped raise awareness of domestic violence in families of non-English speaking immigrants to Western countries, as well as changing the laws for domestic abuse victims in the United Kingdom.

It is now widely accepted that violence can take many forms; financial, physical, emotional, sexual and psychological. So how does it all work? 

Financial abuse is when the income or the access to money is restricted by one partner to another. It may be that one partner controls the money and the other is forced to beg for money for baby food, baby milk and nappies. Many struggle for money to buy food to put on the table. Their partner may have unrealistic expectations of what can be purchased for £20.00 a week and seek justification of any expenditure. But more than likely, the partner in control of the finances is aware that this amount of money is unrealistic to achieve the task in hand and may use this as a reason to abuse and threaten the partner. 

This incident that started with an issue about money may then move on to insults and derogatory comments because there was not enough milk purchased with the pittance that was given to you. These comments then slide into emotional abuse where the self esteem of the person subjected to this ill treatment feels that they deserve this behaviour because they are useless and cannot perform simple tasks. This is where the problem often starts. 

On many occasions the violence is underplayed. The number of men and women that say it was ‘just a slap here and there so it's not really violence' surprises me. There is almost an acceptance and justification of this behaviour. When I delve further I find out that their mobile phone is checked regularly, they cannot visit friends nor have family and friends visit them or their partner will cause what is often described as a ‘scene'. 
The perpetrator of this behaviour has slowly isolated their partner from those they are close to so they are left vulnerable. With no support and networks in place to help, the relationship becomes the only thing that is familiar. So this pattern of behaviour becomes more entrenched and almost acceptable to the person that is being ill treated.

Sexual abuse is just as common although talked about much less. This is very private. There are no witnesses. This becomes shameful and embarrassing to talk about. This makes the person suffering the ill treatment feel violated and ashamed and often this is very difficult to discuss and accept for the individual concerned. 

There is no reason for any person being treated this way to feel any shame or hold any responsibility for the actions of another. The fact is that we all make a decision on how we wish to behave with certain people. Often the partners that are abusing another are polite and courteous to all others including the family and friends of the person being ill treated. So often there is also the misconception that no one would believe what was happening. 

The person that should feel the shame is the person that treats another individual this way. The perpetrator of violence often does feel guilt and shame. Many will cry and gain the sympathy of the person being mistreated and make it all about them so the behaviour experienced is forgotten and the perpetrator becomes the centre of attention. This diffuses the situation and all may be well again within the relationship sometimes for days, weeks and months but rarely for years. And then the pattern of abusive behaviour starts again. 

This behaviour is appalling and in society today everyone should say ‘No' to violence.

There are many external agencies that can provide advice on benefits and housing. Some of these agencies are listed on our website at www.leedsfamilylaw.co.uk . 

If you are being subjected to this type of behaviour then there are 2 types of injunctions that can assist you; Non Molestation Order and an Occupation Order.

A Non molestation Order can be secured to prohibit and restrict the behaviour of the individual towards you. This type of order can prevent threats and use of violence, intimidation, harassment and pestering. The other type of order available is an Occupation Order and this can regulate the occupation of the family home and enables the Court to restrict the rights of one of the occupants in favour of the other.

It is never easy to take the first step to gaining your freedom and having control of your life. 

However, it is always important to put your safety first and if you have children this is all the more important. Just think, if you are injured or left incapable of looking after your children, then would you want your violent partner to be the major influence in the lives of your children? The answer should be No. 

Domestic violence or abuse is recognised as having an impact on the children of the relationship and will be considered in any Court applications made. The effect of domestic violence in relation to contact and residence will be dealt with in the article to be published in September 2011.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Don't forget about the children.....

When a relationship breaks down tensions often run high and there are many issues that need to be resolved. These can include the finances, the family home, Child Tax Credits and so on. However, one of the most important considerations is how to resolve matters relating to children.

In this article I aim to highlight the role of the Court and other advisory bodies. I also hope to highlight the pitfalls and concerns that I have on occasions when I am approached by mothers or fathers to help them resolve a dispute about the children. I hope that this article helps to put into perspective the issues that both parties need to consider at the outset and if not after they receive advice from a Resolution Accredited Specialist who is recognised as a specialist provider of advice in family law disputes. 

The first most important factor to note is that it is widely recognised and accepted by the Court that children benefit from having a positive relationship with both parents, whether these parents continue to live together or not. The rights of any parent are not limited for the duration of the relationship. There are cases where there are significant concerns relating to abuse, drug dependency and violence in which case it may be thought beneficial to limit the contact or restrict it completely until the underlying issues have been resolved.

In the majority of cases however, the issues that cloud the settlement of Contact and Residence disputes actually relate to the adults and not the children. When this cloud is lifted and it is recognised and accepted by both parents that the other is a ‘good parent' significant progress can be made to settle the case.

In many cases that I see, one party (usually the resident parent - i.e. the parent with whom the child lives) places pressure on the other none resident parent (with whom the child does not live), as a means of holding on and staying in control of the situation they find their family in. This is often the case where one party may have ended the relationship to the complete astonishment of the other and an element of distrust has planted its seed.

If each is a good parent then contact should be allowed to flourish within reason. Children benefit from this and manage to develop positive relationships with both parents. Children suffer immensely when they feel as if their loyalties have to be divided and the children say one thing to one parent and another to the other parent to try not to upset them. These are not issues that the children should have to consider. 

The children should be able to move freely between one parent to the other without any hidden agendas and animosity. Many think that the children do not see the tension or do not know that it exists. In my experience the children are more alert and aware of this tension and need help and understanding to adapt to their new situation with their parents living in separate homes. 

From a legal perspective, from the 6th April 2011 it became compulsory to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting before any matter relating to divorce, financial matters or children disputes can be pursued through the courts. The reason for mediation being introduced is that it was felt that people were too quick to bring the minor disputes to the Court to resolve. These included things like where the children would be collected and returned from and to, to whom, frequency and timing.

Requests for increased contact by fathers were often disputed by mothers and in some cases without good reason. The function that the Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting is designed to serve is to reduce conflict between the parents and encourage both parents to resolve the issues that exist before Court action is started. As to whether this will benefit the parent's remains largely dependent upon whether both embrace the concept of trying to reach an agreement. If one fails to attend, then mediation will inevitably fail.

Solicitors can also play a part in resolving such disputes by ensuring that the relevant issues are indentified, discussed openly and where possible laid to rest thus allowing the contact arrangements to take effect. As a Resolution Accredited Specialist, I am often surprised to see some of the letters that arrive at my office littered with allegations and the usual ‘he says, she says' scenarios. Is it really that important? Other than increase the animosity between the two parents what does this do? Tit for tat correspondence is exchanged and the war between the parties consumes the solicitor's correspondences and the issue of contact is lost.

If Mediation fails and solicitors are unable to resolve this matter then it is inevitable that Court proceedings will commence to define with whom the child shall live (Residence) and with whom there shall be Contact and in what terms. It is at this point that CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) become involved with the parents and will make recommendation on how this matter can be resolved.

Whether in the Court arena or otherwise, I aim to resolve matters in a constructive way and help to move matters forward. Often by the time I am instructed the relationship has ended and the reasons for this may be many. I have helped numerous clients resolve the issues relating to Contact and Residence by ensuring that they look at what they wish to achieve and if the issues between the adults cloud their view, I am always certain to remind my client not to forget about the children. Often when the adult issues are eliminated many parents are extremely positive about the others ability to care for the child. 

If you are a parent who is suffering the trauma of a relationship that has ended and your attempts at negotiating contact have failed then please contact Talvinder Penaser at Leeds Family Law on 0113 3944145 to book your Free consultation. You will speak to our Resolution Accredited Specialist Solicitor who has expertise in Children related disputes and is a recognised provider of expert advice in this area. 

Friday, 17 June 2011

This Is My Home - Isn't It?

Leeds Family Law, the legal practice specialising in family related disputes opened its doors to the public on the 14th June 2011. This was a special moment for the Director/Solicitor of the practice, Talvinder Penaser who has worked hard to forge a career in law as a working mother.

Talvinder says "I am delighted that the firm can finally announce it is open to the public. I established this firm as a platform enabling me to provide high quality advice to those that require it at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives. Any family dispute or relationship breakdown is traumatic for the individual concerned. I will help each individual to come to terms with the changes in their life that will inevitably occur after a separation and ensure that their legal rights are protected."

Each month I will write an article about different aspects of family life that will require legal attention if they go wrong. In this article I will concentrate on the changing dynamics of the family unit in the UK. The family unit no longer consists of a married Mum and Dad with 2.5 children. The trend is that the number of people wanting to marry is reducing and the number of people choosing to live together is increasing. Many live happily together for many years and go on to have children without feeling the need to marry.

The concerning aspect as a family solicitor is the number of people that I see that have wrongly assumed that they have legal rights over the property of their partner. If you are married or have formed a Civil Partnership your legal rights are better protected.

For couples the reality is very different. If you have moved into your partners home and the tenancy is in your partners sole name or they are the legal owner of the property then your rights are limited. You have no right to remain in that property once the relationship ends and will have to leave in many cases, taking the children with you. The situation is much worse for those that suffer the unfortunate death of a partner as you may find that you are homeless and if your partner owned this property, it will be passed to his blood relatives. That is what the Law says will happen. You are out of the equation.

"But there is an understanding between my partner and I that this is MY home too should anything happen. After all, I live here. This is my home." I hear this all too often.

Another financial blow after having no rights to your home is that you will not receive any Bereavement benefits or any entitlement from your partners State Pension based on their National Insurance Contributions. You may have given up a career to look after the home and children and you now have no income and no benefits and find yourself homeless with children.

So what can you do to prevent this?

There are a number of options; become a registered owner of the property with your partner, in which case you have the choice of whether each of you wants the property to pass to the other (Joint Tenants) or whether each of you wishes to pass this property to your families upon death and not to each other (Tenants in Common), make a Will and consider a Living Together Agreement. If you are renting a property put both names on the tenancy agreement or when you purchase a new property together make sure you take independent legal advice on how you can protect your legal rights.
If you have children it is important to ensure that the father of the children has Parental Responsibility for them. ‘Parental Responsibility' is the legal term that means ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority' that go with being a parent. Again a simple agreement made between the two of you can ensure that this is in place. Parental Responsibility is automatically with the mother and it is often the fathers that struggle. If your child was born before December 2003 and you are named on the birth certificate, you do not have Parental Responsibility and should take legal advice from an Accredited Family Law Specialist to ensure this is in place.
Many couples live together without giving any thought to what would happen if they separate or if their partner was to die. Death is real and will happen to all of us. It is what we leave behind that is out of our control unless specific steps have been taken to put into action our wishes regarding children, property and other financial issues. It is important to ensure that you take the necessary legal steps to protect yours and your families interest now.