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23 June 2020

Cohabiting Couples Q&A

Cohabiting couples remain the fastest-growing family type in the UK, with many couples still believing that moving in together creates a common law marriage, giving you the same rights as if you were married. However, it is a common misconception that living together with your partner gives you ‘common law’ legal rights.

Because unmarried couples have fewer legal rights, many are now deciding to seek advice for a cohabitation agreement to protect assets and outline the financial responsibilities of the relationship. As reported in 2019, cohabiting couples remain the fastest-growing family type in the UK and it is fair to expect those numbers to continue to rise.

Family Law Solicitor, Sally Harris contributes to the Law Society #SolicitorChat on Twitter to discuss when it comes to living together, what rights do unmarried couples have? And how can a solicitor help you and your partner to protect your individual and shared assets?

Q1. When it comes to living together, do unmarried couples have any automatic rights?

Other than property rights if they had bought their home jointly, or have entered into any other agreements jointly such as loan agreements or investments, there are no legal relations between an unmarried couple.  They will have equal rights in their home if it is jointly owned or they are joint tenants otherwise if it is in one party’s sole name the other does not acquire rights automatically.

Q2. What is a cohabitation agreement and how does it protect unmarried couples who live together?

A cohabitation agreement is an agreement between the parties.  It is not binding on the Court and is therefore not legally enforceable. However, providing the agreement is properly executed they can be legally binding, therefore it’s essential both parties get independent legal advice on the agreement.

Essentially the cohabitation agreement gives certainty of each party’s intention at the date it is signed, which can be helpful if there is a later dispute.

Q3. How can a solicitor help a couple to make a cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is a bespoke agreement and therefore different to each individual couple.  Usually, it will cover how jointly held or acquired assets will be dealt with if the parties separate.  For instance, who will remain living in the joint home or will it be sold? If the home belongs to one party how long will the other be allowed to remain there if the parties separate? If they buy items together for the home, tables, chairs, etc. how will these be divided if they separate? An agreement will also record what assets the parties have at the time they begin to cohabit, so it is clear where the wealth or liabilities of the relationship lie.

Q4. What are the main areas unmarried couples should consider when deciding what provisions to make in their cohabitation agreement?

Again, this will vary hugely between couples and is a completely personal decision. An agreement can set out how the couple will pay for rent, mortgage, bills, food, holidays, etc.  it is likely to record who owns what at the time the parties get together and it is also likely to set out how the parties will separate if the relationship ends.  If the parties intend to have a family it can contain provision about who will care for the child, whether both parties will work full time, part time, etc.

Q5. When should a couple consider updating their cohabitation agreement?

If there is a significant change such as the birth of a child, the cohabitation agreement may need to be reconsidered. Other changes could include health issues, inheritance, or the purchase of a property. If the parties decide eventually to marry, they may like to consider replacing the cohabitation agreement with a pre-nuptial agreement.

The Family Law team actively shares practical tips, legal updates and industry insights related to the Family sector. See the news page links below for more information on cohabitation agreements:

Q&A: Cohabiting Couples

Cohabitee Awareness Week 2019.

Cohabiting Couples ‘living together.

If you are currently cohabiting and have no plans in the future to marry you may like to take legal advice with regard to your financial position, to speak to a member of the Steeles Law specialist Family Law team, please call 01603 598000 or email family@steeleslaw.co.uk and a member of the team will contact you.

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