With cohabiting couples being the fastest growing family type in the UK (according to the most recent ONS Families & Households report) as family lawyers we think it’s important that a couple who chooses to live together rather than marry understands the limits of their legal protection in that relationship. Couples should seriously consider drawing up a Cohabitation Agreement, to protect their interests, should the worse happen.
As family lawyers we seem to get more and more enquiries from cohabiting couples. Unfortunately, by the time many of them contact us their relationship has broken down and they are desperately trying to establish what their rights are, if any, in relation to the home they have shared with their partner and other financial concerns.
In my view couples moving in together shouldn’t leave things to chance. If you are planning on moving in with your partner and aren’t married, it is useful to have a “Cohabitation Agreement” (living together agreement) in place.
What is a Cohabitation Agreement?
A Cohabitation Agreement sets out what you have agreed with your partner about who owns (and owes) what at the time of the agreement, and in what proportion. It encourages you to think about:
a. how the day-to-day finances should be shared e.g. who pays the mortgage/rent and household bills etc.
b. and, how property, assets and income should be divided if your relationship ended.
Having such an agreement isn’t an admission or intention that your relationship will not work anymore than taking out building insurance means that your house will fall down, if anything it can strengthen your relationship by helping both of you to feel more secure and avoid the kind of arguments that can build up over time.
Why bother with a formal agreement?
In the event that the relationship breaks down, couples living together have few rights and protections. Living with someone doesn’t mean you are automatically entitled to some financial support or a share of their property/assets/pension after you split up. There is no such thing as “common law” husband and wife.
Couples who don’t have an agreement in place often have different expectations of what should happen or ideas about what is fair. For couples who have been together a long time, it’s hard to remember who contributed what never mind what was said at the time.
When to make a Cohabitation Agreement
You can make a Cohabitation Agreement at any time, even if you have lived together for 10 years but ideally you should make it when you first move in together.
Is it legally binding?
An agreement won’t be legally binding unless it is written as a formal legal deed and various factors are complied with e.g. is what you agreed fair? Have both of you provided full details of your finances at the time of the agreement? Have you sought independent legal advice etc.?
Any experienced family law solicitor will be able to draft a binding agreement for you. Think of it as insurance, it will provide you with the same protection and peace of mind you have from household or car insurance. And in the event of a complete relationship breakdown at least you’ll know the finances and practical side of things are covered.
Family law solicitor, Bournemouth