Couples who chose to live together in relationships (also known as cohabitants) often believe that they have some form of legal status of protection. Unfortunately, this belief is wrong.
There is no such thing in English Law as a “common law” husband or wife, this is the same where same sex couples are concerned.
The reality is that cohabitants who have not entered into a legally-recognised relationship, either a marriage or Civil Partnership – may have very few rights. It makes no difference that they may have lived together for many years. They will still not be entitled to the same protections that spouses and Civil Partners enjoy which can often seem very unfair.
Whist it may not be the most romantic start to a relationship a Cohabitation Agreement could be an essential part of preparing for a modern relationship. The Agreement is designed to give protection for both parties in the event that things do not work out as intended, or if your partner suddenly passes away and are becoming increasingly common.
What is a Cohabitation Agreement?
This is an Agreement which will regulate the terms upon which you live together and addresses what happens in the event that the relationship should end.
It is a written document that is signed as a deed by both parties in front of witnesses. It will generally deal with three separate areas:
- Who owns (and owes) what at the time of the Agreement, and in what proportions,
- What financial arrangements you have decided to make whilst living together, and
- How property, assets and income should be divided if you separate.
It is usual for both parties to receive separate legal advice to ensure that the document and Agreement is fair and reasonable to ensure that the Court uphold the document in the event of a dispute. It may also be beneficial for the Agreement to include provisions for future events such as discussing the needs of any future children, but this is not essential.
Why should I make a Cohabitation Agreement?
You are able to make a Cohabitation Agreement at any time. However, it is usual for those who are about to start living together to think about making an Agreement.
As previously mentioned, unlike on divorce there are no particular set of rules that automatically apply if you split up with a partner that you have been living with. How long you have lived with them does not automatically mean that you are automatically entitled to some financial support or to share their property should you split up. Without an Agreement in place you could be left in a very exposed position and disputes over properties following a split can lead to very expensive and protracted legal proceedings. A good Cohabitation Agreement can mean that areas of potential dispute on separation are reduced or eliminated.
You may need to review the Cohabitation Agreement in the future should you and your partner move house, have children or your circumstances change dramatically. It is important that the Agreement is kept up to date.
As well as the Agreement we would also suggest that you make a Will so that if you die whilst living with someone, your wishes can be put into effect. Whilst it is possible in some circumstances for a cohabitant to inherit, there are no strict rules about what should happen.
Our team would work with you to ensure that you understand your options and guide you through the process.