Choosing to live together before marriage is pretty much the norm in today’s society, with the number of couples choosing to cohabit on the up. Although it can provide a financially practical option, many couples fail to recognise the lack of protection of their assets if they separate.
There is a common misconception that cohabiting couples are protected by “common law”, giving them the same legal rights as married couples or those in a civil partnership. However, this is not the case - there is no such thing as cohabitation law and there is actually very little legal protection when dealing with a relationship breakdown. Read more about how you can resolve disputes that may arise using mediation, collaboration or arbitration.
However, there are ways you can protect your assets in the event that the relationship ends. This is particularly crucial if children are involved, as protecting your wealth will provide security and help safeguard their future. Although this may be an uncomfortable thought (after all, no one wants to plan for the breakdown of a relationship!), it is important to consider all eventualities and arrange legal protection if something was to go wrong, giving you both peace of mind.
To avoid unwanted conflict further down the line, drawing up a cohabitation agreement (or a ‘living together agreement’ as it is sometimes referred to as) should be the top priority for all unmarried couples that are planning to move in together. As there is no such thing as cohabitation law, cohabiting couples have very few legal rights compared to married couples and therefore a cohabitation agreement provides a level of legal protection and security for both parties in the relationship.
It is essentially a contract between a couple that neatly sets out which assets are joint assets, and which are separate. It also outlines what will happen to those assets in the event of a break-up, i.e. if you moved into a property already owned by your partner and then you both live there for a number of years and have children together, does this become a joint asset?
Read more about the benefits of cohabitation agreements, what can, and should, be included and how they can provide you with legal protection if your relationship ends. Our helpful FAQs on cohabitation agreements also address common questions and misconceptions around living together, but not being married.
In order for a cohabitation agreement to be legally binding, it will need to be drawn up by a lawyer – you cannot just create your own and sign it. Once everything is agreed, the contract must be signed and witnessed by both parties in order for it to hold up in court.
Properties in a single name
When the property is in your name only, once your partner begins to contribute towards the mortgage and renovations, then they will gain a beneficial interest in the property. The level of interest does vary depending on the extent of the contributions, but the property’s equity is no longer solely yours.
Arguments can arise over the beneficial interest in the house of each person, as legal ownership differs from beneficial ownership. This is where living together agreements can be used to solve the dispute in a straightforward and less traumatic way.
Planning for the future
It’s clear that cohabiting is now a normal and common occurrence, so it is essential that people know the best way to safeguard their financial interests. Although there is no legal status for cohabitation law, there are ways you can give yourself a level of legal protection. From putting in place a cohabitation agreement, to preparing a will to protect your personal wealth, we’re here to help.
The best time to put a cohabitation agreement in place is before moving in together, but it’s never too late to set one up or seek advice if you’re feeling financially vulnerable. Our team of cohabitation lawyers will support you with reaching an agreement that works for your relationship.
For more advice on putting a cohabitation agreement in place, speak to a member of your local family law team.