If you have recently moved in together or are currently considering it, there are a few legal facts worth understanding so that you make the right decisions to protect you, your assets and your family in the future.
Anyone who is not married but living together with another person should consider getting a cohabitation agreement drawn up to provide peace of mind. Essentially it will benefit everyone who lives together as a household, whether romantically or not: this may include gay or straight couples as much as friends or partners taking on a joint lease or purchasing real estate together.
The current law offers no protection to domestic partners
In the UK the law only protects married couples and those who have registered a civil partnership. This means that couples who cohabit, regardless of the length of time they have been together or if there are children of the union, have no legal rights or remedies in law. The idea of rights pertaining to a common law marriage is fiction. Many people are unaware of this fact and assume they will be protected in the event of relationship breakdown or death.
The Law Society states that unmarried cohabiting families are the fastest growing type of family in the UK. We strongly recommend getting a cohabitation agreement drawn up to protect you should anything go wrong in the relationship.
Cohabitation law reform is on the agenda, but no definite outcome
Living together without being married or having a civil partnership, even if you have been together for years does not give you or your partner any legal rights.
In 2019, a new law was introduced which allows mixed-sex couples who want their relationship legally recognised but do not wish to get married to enter a civil partnership. A civil partnership provides the same tax benefits and legal rights for each partner as a marriage.
With cohabitation numbers at well over 3.5 million, law reform to better protect children and partners from financial and other risks is frequently called for by the Law Commission, legal practitioners and academics, but for political reasons, it never seems to get very far. Until such time that the law changes, it is vital that cohabiting partners seek legal advice and get a cohabitation agreement drafted that will give them peace of mind regarding their future.
What is a cohabitation agreement?
A cohabitation agreement is a flexible contract between you and your partner regarding finances and may include additional practical arrangements. Before getting a cohabitation agreement drafted you should think about your current joint and individual responsibilities such as the mortgage or rent, childcare costs and other household bills, and how you want to divide them. You should also consider what might happen in the event that the cohabitation comes to an end. A cohabitation agreement is a legal contract and therefore is enforceable in law.
What to include in a cohabitation agreement
A cohabitation agreement can include:
- The couple’s financial obligations towards each other including who pays for what.
- Ownership of items such as a car, pets, a business and property
- Details of how joint bank accounts, additional finances or other assets should be treated if the relationship breaks down.
- It may include access rights and financial responsibilities regarding children.
A cohabitation agreement can be drawn up at any stage of the relationship and can be amended or updated at different stages in life, for example, when thinking about having children, when buying a house, etc.
If you decide to get married or enter a civil partnership at a later date, the status of the cohabitation contract changes and it acts more like a pre-nuptial agreement, that is to say, that a court would take the contract into consideration but would not be bound by it.
The importance of getting legal advice
No two people’s circumstances are the same, so while there is value in some generic information such as the fact that cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as married couples, it is really important that your individual circumstances are considered. These will include your age, your employment status, whether there are disabilities or other vulnerabilities to consider, whether or not there are children and the length of the cohabitation. These are all important factors particularly when a cohabitation agreement is being drafted. A family law solicitor will be able to advise you on what should be included in this agreement, when is the best time to get one drawn up and what legal effect it will have.
If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on (01904) 217225 or (020) 36332301 or (0161) 3273677 or email [email protected].