I am friends with a couple who haven’t got married. They have two children and have lived together as life partners for going on eight years now, but they’ve avoided the marriage thing completely. I’m not sure that it’s even come up (probably because neither has the time to think about planning a wedding!).
I confess that, as enamoured as I am with the whole concept of being partners without the interference of ‘marriage’, I often wonder what would happen if one of them suddenly died. Or if one of them left. What would the consequences be for the other?
Because, here’s the bottom line: there is no legal recognition of domestic partnerships and no such thing as a common law marriage in South Africa. So, there’s no such thing then as a default marriage.
If two unmarried partners team up for a period, neither will have a claim to any part of the other’s personal estate. There is the Domestic Partnerships Bill of 2008, which provides for both registered and unregistered partnerships, but it’s still in initial stages and no-one knows yet just how it will be carried out.
Enter the cohabitation agreement.
This is a contract that a couple draw up outlining just how their living arrangements will work. In it they decide the responsibilities of each partner and the financial consequences of the relationship (there is a formal structure to the agreement).
In it you can outline just who gets what should the relationship end, or should one of you die. It can include the payment of debt and the sharing of living expenses during the relationship. It can also protect either partner from incurring unneccessary legal costs should the relationship end.
It can state what happens to the ownership of property in the event of death or a split.
It’s legally binding. But it cannot be enforced by a third party. Contact an attorney and draw up a cohabitation agreement, if this applies to you.
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