This is what you should do to protect yourself legally if you’re in a long term partnership.

You don’t need paperwork to prove you love the person you’re with, right? And, if anything happens to them, you’re basically in a common law marriage anyway, right?  Wrong.

It’s not a default marriage

“At the outset it is important to stress that there is no such thing as a common law marriage or spouse (in South Africa)”, says Shani van Niekerk, an attorney with Adams & Adams in a press release. “The amount of time that a couple lives together does not translate into a default marriage. We’ve had clients ask us about a ‘six-month rule’. It’s a total myth unfortunately.”

Often this means that when a long term relationship ends, due to a break up or death, one or both partners is left rather vulnerable

So what if something happens to you or your partner?

For example, when one partner dies without leaving a valid will, the other partner has no right to inherit under the Intestate Succession Act. They also cannot rely on the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act to secure maintenance should a partner pass away. Plus, there is also no obligation on either cohabitant to maintain the other, and people who live together have no enforceable right to claim maintenance from each other.

What should you do?

Often couples are too loved up to think about what might happen if their currently happy situation turns sour, so they don’t safeguard their interests.

But don’t let fear of looking like you’re just here for bae’s (maybe hypothetical) money deter you from looking after your own interests. This doesn’t mean you want your relationship to fail, but merely that you’re looking out for yourself if after years of building a relationship and sharing costs with someone comes to an end and you’re suddenly left out in the cold.

What exactly is a cohabitation agreement?

This agreement is in the best interests and clarifies the expectations of both partners.  It regulates the rights and duties between partners, and could almost be compared to an ante-nuptial contract that some married couples sign before they get hitched.  It can provide for the division and distribution of assets upon dissolution of the relationship, the rights and obligations towards each other with regards to maintenance, and parties’ obligations and respective financial contributions towards the joint home.

A cohabitation agreement will be legally binding as long as it contains no provisions that are immoral or illegal, however it is important to note that a cohabitation agreement will not be enforceable insofar as third parties are concerned.

So if you and your boo are thinking of moving in together, then consider going to a family attorney and getting a cohabitation agreement drawn up. It might just make your relationship that much more solid.

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