Why you need a cohabitation agreement

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Family Law on Thursday, May 25th, 2023

The number of couples who are living together without being married or entering into a civil partnership has massively increased in recent decades. According to a Commons Library briefing paper, the number of cohabiting couples rose from around 1.5 million in 1996 to around 3.6 million in 2021 – an increase of 144%.

Whilst social norms are continually evolving, the law often lags behind. Sadly, many couples who live together believe that they are in a ‘common-law marriage’ – married in all but name and enjoying the same legal rights as married couples.  

No such thing as common law marriage

Unfortunately, unwed cohabiting couples frequently fall foul of this assumption when something happens and they realise that they don’t have the same rights and entitlements as their married counterparts.

For example, if a married couple were to separate, they would have a legal duty to support one another financially. If you are unmarried and have been reliant on your partner’s income, however, they are under no obligation to offer you financial support should you decide to separate. Equally, they were the sole tenant or sole owner of your home together, you would have no legal right to remain there following your separation. You may be able to claim a ‘beneficial interest’ in the property, but this would require an application to the court.

If you are unmarried and your partner dies, you may not be entitled to inherit their possessions if there are no legal provisions in place – no matter what your partner ultimately intended. You will not automatically inherit your home (unless you owned it jointly as joint tenants), nor will you have any legal right to their money and assets. This can be extremely distressing for the surviving partner

How to protect yourself legally

As we have explored, cohabitation outside of a marriage or civil partnership union can have significant implications depending on your unique situation and circumstances. Whether you’re planning on moving into your partner’s home or vice versa, or you’re looking to acquire a property together, it is well worth drafting a formal legal agreement to ensure you both understand what you are entering into and that you’re legally protected should your relationship sadly end.

Cohabitation agreements regulate and record the arrangements that parties living together have in place (whether as a couple or otherwise), ensuring that each party’s rights, responsibilities and intentions are clear and unambiguous from the very outset. Provided that they are drafted and properly executed as a deed, cohabitation agreements serve as legally binding contracts and offer vital protections to cohabitees who fall through the gaps of current UK legislation. 

A cohabitation agreement can include anything you like, but most cohabitation agreements will cover arrangements relating to:

  • Ownership of property
  • Rent or mortgage payments
  • Household bills and other expenses
  • Bank accounts and money
  • Non-monetary assets such as cars, furniture and even pets
  • Pensions
  • Debts.

Of course, the agreement should also lay out how all of the above should be dealt with in the event of a relationship breakdown.

Making a Will

Another vital legal document that should be a priority for any couple (married or not) is a professionally drafted Will. While a cohabitation agreement will deal with most things, it’s not designed to cover the distribution of a couple’s assets after death, so having a Will adds an extra layer of protection.

Even if you are married, it doesn’t mean that everything will automatically be passed onto you after your spouse’s death. It all depends on your estate, your family circumstances and other variables. So, it’s always worth reiterating your wishes via a legally binding document.

Get in touch for a free case assessment meeting

Whilst we know that many people feel that obtaining a cohabitation agreement is an unnecessary expense, and that they have sufficient trust in each other and their arrangements without one. However, things aren’t always as simple as we’d like them to be; legal protections like a cohabitation agreement can help us weather the storms life throws at us.

At Attwaters Jameson Hill, we understand that each client’s situation is unique. That’s why we offer a free case assessment meeting to find out more about your circumstances and offer personalised initial advice.

To book your appointment, please get in touch on 0330 221 8855 or email familylaw@attwaters.co.uk

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