If you live with your partner but are not married or in a civil partnership, a Cohabitation Agreement (also known as a Living Together Agreement) is a legally binding contract that you can put in place to protect you both if the relationship breaks down.
Many couples still wrongfully believe that they are protected under something called a ‘common law marriage’, but the truth is, common law marriage is not legally recognised in England and Wales.
New Cohabitation Laws
The UK’s Cohabitation Rights Bill currently moving through parliament will, if passed, offer long-term cohabitants across the UK some basic protection. Unfortunately, concerns that passing it may undermine the institutions of marriage/civil partnership mean there is some opposition to this bill. In the meantime, you face the following risks:
· If your name is not on a rental agreement or property deed, you are not automatically entitled to stay in your home. You may be asked to leave your home and left with nothing even if you have put money into it by, for example, helping with a mortgage or deposit, paying bills, etc.
· If you had children together, one of you would be obligated to support the children, but not to support the other partner. This could make supporting their family difficult for the latter.
One of the most sensible ways to clearly set out your rights is to put a cohabitation agreement in place as a couple living together. However, to ensure it is drafted correctly and you are fully aware of the implications of signing the agreement, you should take specialist legal advice.
A cohabitation agreement can establish matters such as:
· Ownership and interests of the property
· How you will intend to manage your finances whilst you live together.
· Financial provisions – in some instances, couples may want to agree to financial provision or ongoing maintenance for the one partner if they separate.
· Protection of assets or other properties
What happens if you have children?
Even if a cohabitation agreement has been put in place, it will be unlikely that decisions regarding children will be enforceable. When children are involved, the Children Act 1989 will need to be relied upon, and the Courts have a duty to focus on the child’s needs. This area of law governs matters such as maintenance and care needs of the child, but it will not include provisions for the needs of the parents.
What happens if you get married?
Unless you have put in place specific conditions in the cohabitation agreement that the terms survive marriage, the agreement will cease to exist when you get married. You will then be subject to matrimonial law and governed by the Divorce Act and the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act. However, you can choose to enter into either a Prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement.
English law does not formally recognise pre-marital agreements in the same way that other countries do. However, the English Courts have given pre-marital agreements weight in several cases and treated them as significant in recent years.
Cohabitation Agreement Solicitors
We can provide you with detailed information on your rights as a cohabiting couple, with guidance on your best options if something unforeseen happens. Please do not hesitate to contact us on 020 8974 7490 or firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange an initial consultation to discuss the best way forward for you.
This blog post is not intended to be taken as advice or acted upon. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our team of solicitors