Family lawyer, Susan Snook, considers the advantages for an unmarried couple of having in place a cohabitation agreement. Susan is available on 01793 615011. You can also contact her by email, or by completing the Contact Form at the foot of this page.
It’s estimated that there are approaching 4 million cohabiting couples in the UK. A significant proportion of that number believes they have rights similar to a married couple, particularly if the period of cohabitation has been long or they have children together. But the concept of “common law marriage” is a total legal fiction. In reality, the law in England and Wales provides little protection for unmarried couples.
How can cohabitees protect themselves?
Of course, cohabitees can better protect themselves by getting married or entering into a civil partnership. But for a whole variety of reasons, that may not be right or even possible for everyone, and most couples who do intend to marry eventually, cohabit beforehand.
As a cohabitee, if your relationship breaks down, you have no legal right to share your former partner’s income or assets, for example, their pension or savings. If you disagree on what should happen to your home, whether it’s owned jointly or in one partner’s sole name, the law applied is complex, and such disputes can prove expensive.
Children are also a major consideration, not just in terms of parenting issues such as which parent the child(ren) should live with, but also ensuring sufficient financial provision is made.
What is a cohabitation agreement?
Whether or not you are already living together, a formal, written cohabitation agreement allows you to detail what property and assets are owned by which person, and to set out clearly how they will be split in the event of your relationship breaking down. You can also decide how children will be supported.
However, you should note that a cohabitation agreement cannot provide for pensions to be shared on separation; pensions can only be shared on divorce.
Some couples decide to use a cohabitation agreement to go further still, perhaps setting out how day-to-day finances will be managed during their relationship or naming each other next-of-kin.
How do I make a cohabitation agreement?
You can make a cohabitation agreement at any time, even if you have been living together for many years. Indeed, arguably it’s even more important to do so if that’s the case.
Our team have considerable expertise in drafting cohabitation agreements. We will also advise whether you need to consider any other steps to protect your position, such as making Wills, or drafting a declaration of trust regarding jointly owned property. Our specialist solicitors are available on 01793 615011. Alternatively, you can email us, or complete the Contact Form at the foot of this page.
Remember, entering into a cohabitation agreement is not unromantic, it’s pragmatic, and most couples find reassurance in removing much of the uncertainty of cohabitation.