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    21 September 2021

    Forced cohabitation – what should you consider when living together post-covid-19?

    The trend towards cohabitation, as opposed to marriage, continues to grow. The Office of National Statistics shows that 3.5 million people will be cohabiting in England and Wales in 2020.

    Covid-19 has undoubtedly had an impact on everyone’s lives in many different ways. As lockdown measures were introduced in March 2020, many couples faced the decision of either moving in together or isolate separately in the knowledge that it was unclear as to when restrictions were to be lifted. At that time, little did we know that the restrictions were going to continue for some time!

    Considering the circumstances, some couples decided to take the plunge and move in together, which may well have accelerated their relationship path. Some couples may have found that they enjoyed their new living arrangements and having someone else’s company during such a difficult time. For others, the arrangement may not have worked quite as well, and they may have had to make the difficult decision to separate.

    Deciding whether to live together is often thought about carefully with prior discussions about how things are going to work in practice. For example, a couple will need to consider how the living expenses are going to be met, such as rent or mortgage payments, household bills or the weekly food bill. Particular care needs to be taken when one party to the relationship is the property owner where they intend to cohabit.

    Common-Law Marriage – Myth or fact?

    There are still several myths around the rights (or lack of rights) of cohabiting couples. For example, many people still believe that cohabiting couples have the same rights as married couples. For example, many people think that couples acquire rights after living together for several years or if they have children together. This is not the case under the current legislation, and it is dangerous for people to assume this.

    If a cohabiting couple’s relationship breakdown, the law treats them as two unrelated individuals. This means that no account is taken of the financial contribution or other contribution that they may have made during the relationship to determine what is fair on their separation or if one of them were to die. This could potentially put the more financially vulnerable party in a tricky position and face hardship and difficulties. The Courts have no powers to redistribute the wealth of cohabiting couples on separation regardless of how long they have been together.

    Cohabiting couples have some rights if they jointly own property or show that they acquired an interest in a property, but this is very much case and fact-specific. If the couple has a child together, it may be possible to apply for financial provision for the child; these types of claims are complicated and are often time consuming and expensive.

    It is also important to remember that in the absence of a Will, a surviving partner has no automatic rights to the deceased’s estate. If the cohabitee were to die without a Will, the cohabitee would be deemed to die intestate, and the estate would be distributed in accordance with the Intestate Rules. These can be arbitrary, and crucially cohabitees do not inherit under the rules. A surviving cohabitee may be able to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 if no provision or reasonable financial provision has not been made but again cohabitees are not treated in the same way as spouses.   

    There is an answer to avoiding the unpleasant situation that can arise on the separation of a cohabiting couple, which is to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement. The Cohabitation Agreement can cover several things and can be tailored to suit the couple’s individual needs.

    If couples jointly own property, they will need to consider how they will deal with ownership of that property and may wish to think about entering into a Declaration of Trust.

    Fixed Fee Appointments

    It is always advisable to have an initial chat with a Family Solicitor; this ensures you know your legal position and rights before proceeding. It does not have to be costly to take advice. Steeles Law Family Solicitors offer an initial fixed fee meeting for £100.00 plus VAT for up to an hour so that you can chat through any legal issues and raise any questions you have. Please call the team on 01603 598000 or email family@steeleslaw.co.uk to book your appointment.

    *The information provided in this article is designed to provide helpful information on the subject, not specific legal advice.


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