Popping the Question this Christmas?

Did you know that the most popular day to make a marriage proposal is Christmas Eve? Closely followed by New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and (of course) Valentines Day. If we believe the results of this survey, we’re heading for the busiest period of the year as far as engagements are concerned. Alongside the ring and the romance, there are some more practical matters that are worth thinking about if you’re planning to pop the question this Christmas.

Think about a Prenuptial Agreement

In the flush of romance, no one wants to consider that their forthcoming marriage might fail. On the other hand, statistics show the reality of an increasing divorce rate among opposite sex couples. Although a prenuptial agreement might seem a bit clinical (Paul McCartney famously referred to them as ‘unromantic’), it can be a really helpful vehicle for talking about some of the practical aspects of your relationship – particularly financial issues which can cause real problems for couples, even without a divorce. For couples marrying later in life, a pre-nuptial agreement offers an opportunity to protect assets from previous relationships, and to address the financial consequences of any subsequent divorce. It’s a good time to talk about these things, while everything is going well in your relationship. If you’re planning to spend the rest of your life with someone, these are all topics that you should be able to talk about freely.

Very similar in nature to a cohabitation agreement (which we’ll talk about shortly), the key to a successful prenuptial agreement is that both you and your partner should take independent legal advice about what you are doing, and make sure you keep the document updated. The legal status of prenuptial agreements is not 100% clear. However, if a couple who have entered into a prenuptial agreement split up and their circumstances have not significantly changed, the courts are more likely to follow the terms of the agreement. If your circumstances have changed and the agreement hasn’t been updated to reflect this (for example, children come along) the chances are that a judge would depart from the agreement more freely.

A Cohabitation Agreement works if you’re moving in together

You may already be living together – or your engagement prompts the decision to buy a place together. You might not want to get married, in which case a prenuptial agreement won’t work, but living together is a significant commitment. Drawing up a cohabitation agreement is an opportunity for you to document what you are bringing in to the relationship and what contributions you will make – for example who will pay the mortgage and the bills. Cohabitation agreements provide a great opportunity to talk about all these matters while your relationship is strong. If you intend to cohabit long term without getting married but have children, a cohabitation agreement can also address how you would share responsibility and maintenance for those children if you did split up.

There’s a very commonly-held belief that living together confers similar rights as marriage – many people call it ‘common law marriage’. This is a misconception. Cohabitation doesn’t give any rights to either party. If one of you dies or you split up, this can cause real problems. A cohabitation agreement that’s properly drawn up, with both parties taking independent legal advice, and kept up to date, should be enforceable by the courts. It should make life far simpler if things start to go wrong.

Remember to make – or update – your will and check other paperwork

Whether you are planning to marry or intend to live together long term, make sure you update your will as soon as possible to reflect how you want your property to be divided up should you pass away. The rules of intestacy (what happens when you die without a will) do not include unmarried partners, so your fiancé or partner won’t benefit from your estate unless they are specifically included in your will .

It’s not just your will either. Check pension documentation to see if you need to complete paperwork to ensure that your fiancé or partner can benefit from any death in service benefits. You should also have a look at insurance policies and any other paperwork to make sure it’s all up to date.

Your engagement – or a decision to live together – is an exciting time, and it’s worth taking some time to address these practical matters early on so that you can get on with the job of planning your wedding – and the rest of your lives together! If you’re making a big commitment this Christmas and would like advice about a prenuptial agreement, a cohabitation agreement or your will, get in touch with our specialist solicitors who will be happy to help!