I’m not married but I want to live with my partner. What if we break up…?
This is a question we are constantly asked; the answer is not straight forward but it does help if both parties know the legalities of moving in together before making such a big step. One option both parties can take is to ask their solicitor to draw up a “cohabitation agreement”. This may seem like a rather unromantic proposition, but it is also important not to be naive and make sure you are protecting your own future. Now onto the important questions…
What is a Cohabitation Agreement?
A Cohabitation Agreement is a legal document that sets out what should happen to your assets, debts and other arrangements, should you and your partner break up in the future.
Who is a Cohabitation Agreement for?
Cohabitation Agreements are for cohabiting couples, which means you are living with your partner, but you are not married.
What does a Cohabitation Agreement do?
A Cohabitation Agreement basically looks into the future and imagines a scenario where your relationship comes to an end. Should this happen, it is likely that you will have a lot to sort out, such as –
• How to divide your assets
• How to share your debts
• Who is going to continue living in your home and who is going to move out
• Whether one person is going to give the other maintenance
• How any children are going to be provided for, over and above their basic needs
A Cohabitation Agreement allows you to make all of these decisions, and to set them out in a legal document.
Why get a Cohabitation Agreement?
A Cohabitation Agreement is incredibly important because, contrary to common belief, there is no such thing as a common law marriage. Lots of people mistakenly believe that if they have been cohabiting with their partner, it is basically the same as getting married. But this is absolutely not the case. The fact of the matter is that the law in England and Wales treats married and unmarried couples very differently. When a marriage comes to an end, each person is entitled to a share of the assets, regardless of who brought them into the relationship. Yet this is not true for cohabiting couples, who have no legal rights over their partner’s assets.
So, if you have been living in your partner’s house and your relationship breaks down, you will have no right to continue living in the property. You could be asked to leave immediately, and your partner is under no obligation to help you find alternative accommodation. If you want to dispute this then you can do so. However, seeing as you were not married, you will have very little legal standing. Your case may also end up in the courts, something which will be extremely expensive.
Why will a Cohabitation Agreement help?
A Cohabitation Agreement will help to protect each person’s position because you can decide what will happen to your finances, property and children, should your relationship end. The advantages of doing this in advance are twofold.
Firstly, you will make these decisions at a time when the feelings between you are amiable. This means you are much more likely to make arrangements that are fair and reasonable to each person. If you wait until you break up, the ill will between you may be such that you find it difficult to reach a settlement. If so, you will have no choice but to make a decision based on what the law says. And as the law does not provide for unmarried couples, this will leave the weaker party in a very vulnerable position.
Secondly, separations are always hard. If you then have to debate and barter as to who gets what, it can make things all the more difficult. At least if you have already made these kind of decisions, it will be one less thing that you have to worry about.
How do you get a Cohabitation Agreement?
The first thing to do is to sit down with your partner and decide what you would like to happen to your assets, debts, children and personal belongings, should you split up. Once you agree, one person should ask a family law solicitor to draw up a Cohabitation Agreement. This should then be sent to the other person, who should ask a separate family law solicitor to review its contents. As long as you are both advised that the agreement is fair and reasonable to each person, you can go ahead and sign the document in front of a witness.
Are Cohabitation Agreements legally binding?
Cohabitation Agreements are legally binding to an extent. By this we mean that they are certainly taken into consideration by the courts, and as long as the agreement is deemed to be fair and reasonable to each person, and both of you sought independent legal advice before signing the document, it will be upheld.
Cohabitation Agreement solicitors
A Cohabitation Agreement may be a little unromantic, and of course you may never need it. But you never know what the future may bring, and it is a prudent step that could save you considerable emotional and financial distress in the long-run.
If you would like to know more about Cohabitation Agreements, we can help you. For an informal chat or to book a consultation, call us on 0333 4564 444, or for international calls, dial +44 1992 505 406.
Betteridges represented me during a rather acrimonious divorce. My ex-wife engaged a top London solicitor and I always felt that Mark was one step ahead of the game and cannot recommend him highly enough.”