Despite the increase in the number of couples living together rather than marrying, very few think about the legal issues of cohabitation. It is still common for people to assume they are protected by ‘common law’ rights in the same way that married couples are. This is not the case. In fact, couples who live together have hardly any of the same rights as married couples.
The effect of cohabitation
As society has changed it has become more common for parties to live together outside of marriage or a civil partnership.
However, unmarried couples living together do not have the same legal rights as a married couple or civil partners. The ‘common law marriage’ simply does not exist in legal terms. Your position could be severely and irreparably prejudiced in the event the relationship breaks down, or on death, without the terms being recorded.
A cohabitation agreement will regulate the terms upon which a cohabiting couple live together and addresses what happens should the relationship end. For example interests in property, financial support such as who pays what and for how long, where any children should live and so on.
What is a cohabitation agreement?
A cohabitation agreement is simply a record of what you have agreed about how you will own and share things. It will regulate the terms upon which a cohabiting couple live together and addresses what happens should the relationship end. For example, interests in property, financial support such as who pays for what and for how long, where any children should live and so on.
A cohabitation agreement (also known as a ‘Living Together Agreement’) has these key purposes:
It will decide how the parties will live together on a day to day basis covering issues such as payment of the bills and the ownership of the home etc.
If the parties separate it will help to ensure that it is as amicable as possible by setting out who will be responsible for the payment of what and who will be entitled to what.
If applicable, it will detail the property that each party has in their own name when the agreement is made.
A cohabitation agreement prompts you to think about easy and fair ways to organise your day to day finances and ensures that if your relationship ended, neither of you would lose out financially – unless that is what you had agreed. A cohabitation agreement is designed to provide the evidence of ‘intention’ and hopefully thereby avoid future litigation.
When should a cohabitation agreement be made?
Ideally a cohabitation agreement should be when you first move in together, however legally speaking there is nothing preventing a couple entering into an agreement at any time during the time they live together. Better late than never, so even if you have already been together for 10 years it is still a good idea.
What can be included in a cohabitation agreement?
Financial issues are a key part of a cohabitation agreement. The agreement should include what rights each partner has in relation to the property you live in, who owns other assets and who is responsible for any debts. It is also common for the agreement to look at how you will share expenses while you live together. If you have children, either jointly or with a previous partner, the agreement can also address issues relating to child arrangements.
What can’t be included in a cohabitation agreement?
It is not generally a good idea to include rules on behaviour in a cohabitation agreement. It will be difficult to legally bind someone to do the washing up or take the bins out, for example. Attempting to include such rules is likely to undermine the clarity and enforceability of the agreement.
How our cohabitation specialists can help you to avoid unnecessary conflict
Our team of specialist cohabitation solicitors are members of Resolution and trained in various dispute resolution processes, which means we can help you find solutions to problems rather than defaulting to a potentially costly and time-consuming court process.
A cohabitation agreement is a bespoke document and should always be drafted by a specialist lawyer to ensure it meets the legal criteria. When it comes to advising our clients on cohabitation, our approach is as follows:
We will look at all the issues that may impact on you and advise how to address these in the most appropriate, sensitive and cost-effective way;
We will consider the options, provide you with guidance on living together or helping you to create ‘living together’ agreements. We can also signpost you to helpful third parties to assist you through the process, such as counselling;
A cohabiting couple does not need to be at the end of their relationship for advice from a cohabitation lawyer to be obtained. The collaborative model may be an ideal forum to agree how you will live together and how assets should be dealt with in the event of separation. Family Mediation may also be appropriate should your relationship break down and there are unresolved issues.
Cohabitation is an arrangement where unmarried couples live together in a committed relationship, sharing a household and responsibilities without a legally recognised marriage or civil partnership.
It has become increasingly common as an alternative to traditional forms of partnership.
Cohabiting partners may share financial commitments and own property jointly, but unlike married couples, they do not have the same legal rights and protections.
In the event of separation, cohabiting couples are not entitled to the same property and financial division as married couples.
Though some legal reforms have been introduced to provide limited cohabitation rights, such as for children and specific situations, cohabitation remains distinct from marriage in terms of legal status and entitlements.
What is a cohabitation agreement?
A cohabitation agreement is a legally binding contract that unmarried couples enter into when they decide to live together.
It outlines the rights, responsibilities, and financial arrangements between the partners during the cohabitation and in the event of a separation.
The agreement typically covers aspects like property ownership, financial contributions, asset division, and arrangements for any children.
Cohabitation agreements aim to provide clarity and protection for both parties, as cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples.
By setting out their intentions and expectations in writing, the agreement helps avoid disputes and potential conflicts in the future, offering a measure of security and certainty for those who choose to live together without getting married.
What is the main difference between cohabitation and marriage?
Couples who live together have hardly any of the same rights as married couples. There is no such thing as ‘common law marriage’.
If a married couple divorce there is legislation which determines how the court should deal with their financial arrangements such as property division and maintenance.
In contrast, when a cohabiting couple separate there is no legal provision for maintenance or redistribution of property.
Married couples also benefit from laws governing property division, spousal maintenance, and inheritance rights. They are also entitled to certain tax benefits, pension rights, and social security advantages that cohabiting couples do not have access to.
Cohabitation does not grant similar legal entitlements, making it essential for cohabiting partners to create a cohabitation agreement to safeguard their interests and establish clear guidelines for financial matters and property ownership in case the relationship ends.
How can I get a cohabitation agreement?
To obtain a cohabitation agreement, both parties should seek independent cohabitation legal advice to ensure their interests are protected.
Cohabitation agreement solicitors can help you draft a legally binding document tailored to your specific needs and circumstances.
The agreement typically outlines financial responsibilities, property rights, and how assets and debts will be divided should the relationship end.
After agreeing on the terms, both partners should sign the document voluntarily and without any pressure.
The agreement can then be amended if your circumstances change, and it is important to keep it up to date to reflect any new arrangements.
How much does a cohabitation agreement cost?
The cost of a cohabitation agreement will vary depending on the complexity of the couple’s situation.
Usually, one partner’s solicitor will take their client’s instructions, advise them and prepare an initial draft which is then approved by their client before being sent to the other party. The other partner would often take advice from their solicitor upon the terms of the agreement and their solicitor may propose amendments to the cohabitation agreement.
Some cohabitation agreement solicitors may bill for their time hourly while others may offer a fixed rate. . These fees will vary depending on the complexity of the couple’s affairs.
Taking the time to create a cohabitation agreement can prevent you from having to resolve matters through court proceedings, where costs can easily escalate into tens of thousands of pounds.
What happens if one party stops abiding by the cohabitation agreement?
If one party stops abiding by a cohabitation agreement, the consequences can vary depending on the specific circumstances and the terms outlined in the agreement.
In such cases, the affected party may seek legal recourse to enforce the agreement’s provisions. They may initiate legal proceedings in the county court.
To ensure that a cohabitation agreement is tailored to the couples individual circumstances, it is crucial for cohabiting couples to have their agreements drafted by a solicitor and obtain independent legal advice to understand their rights and obligations.
We’re here to guide and support you.
Let's start with a call, there's no obligation, and our expert team can advise and guide you from the beginning.
she has a clear understanding of the emotional difficulties involved in separation
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all the support and advice you have given me over this distressing time. I know its your job, but I felt that you were giving honest clear advice, listened...
Kate Elliott, Director, Solicitor & Mediator - Horsham
This is Kate
she is brilliant with clients, giving robust, clear, sensible advice
"When I first instructed Kate Elliott, instantly I had sense of relief as I knew my complex case was going to meticulously thought out. She worked tirelessly throughout my case with dedicated professionalism and honesty. She is attentive, warm and...
Christopher Maulkin, Director, Solicitor & Collaborative Lawyer - Brighton
This is Chris
he is an outstanding solicitor, bringing a forensic mind to cases
"I just wanted to say thank you for your time and considerate manner when we had our meeting. It was, to be honest, one of the worst meetings of my life due to the circumstance, but your kind lovely self...
she is extremely conscientious and supportive of her clients
"Emily has been my lawyer through what has been a traumatic divorce for me. The whole process has been very stressful and the resulting anxiety was intense at times; but Emily's calm and empathetic approach has helped not let it...