Moving in together – consider a cohabitation agreement

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.

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.

Statistics show 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.

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 instruct solicitors to draft a cohabitation agreement 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 the cohabitation agreement is 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. Provided it is properly drafted and meets certain legal requirements, 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 the family home, joint bank accounts, additional finances or other assets should be treated if the relationship breaks down.
  • Details of how liabilities are to be treated on separation, and who will be responsible for their repayment.

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 record of the parties’ intentions and contributions. The court could take the agreement into consideration but would not be bound by it. You could however consider entering into a pre- nuptial agreement before entering into marriage.

The importance of getting legal advice

No two relationships are the same, and therefore, 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 01785 336617 or email [email protected].