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;
- We aim to adopt a non-adversarial approach to resolving matters and encourage use of Family Mediation and the Collaborative Law model;
- We are issue focused and will look to achieve practical, and cost-effective solutions.
- We follow the Resolution Code of Practice and Family Law Protocol.
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.