As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic many couples have found their home circumstances have changed. From couples who moved in together so that they could quarantine together, to couples who have had to postpone their weddings or civil partnerships, to couples who have decided to separate and are remaining living together or are no longer living together.

For all of these couples it is important that they are aware of their legal rights and how these can change at different stages of their relationship. This is the first of four articles which will look at the different types of relationship agreements and when and why you might need them.

Cohabitation agreement

Cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples especially when it comes to property ownership, pension rights and maintenance payments. It is possible for a couple to live together for many years and even have children together and then one person to walk away without any legal responsibility to their former partner when the relationship breakdowns. This is especially problematic if the property or assets are held in that person’s sole name or if one person had a higher salary whilst the other took time off to care for children.

Many people believe that after a number of years living together they will be in a ‘common law marriage’, however, this is not correct and there is a need for all cohabiting couples to be aware of their legal rights and if necessary take steps to protect themselves and their children.

Whilst the difference in legal rights between cohabiting and married couples may only really be felt during the breakdown of a relationship, it is important for all cohabitees to think ahead and make sure that they are not left financially vulnerable or facing lengthy and costly court proceedings in the event of a future separation.

A cohabitation agreement records the agreement between two or more people who have agreed to live together, as a couple or otherwise. It records their rights in relation to the property where they live or intend to live together and the financial arrangements between them, both during and following cohabitation and the arrangements to be made if they decide that they no longer want to live together. It can also record what would happen if one person were to pass away during the cohabitation.

Cohabitation agreements are usually entered into by couples who have decided to live together but have decided not to marry or enter into a civil partnership or are not sure yet. They can also be used by people who have decided to purchase a property to live in together whether they are in a relationship or not. It is advisable for such an agreement to be drawn up before you cohabit, but it can be drawn up at any time after you have started living together.

Some advantages of entering into a cohabitation agreement are:

1. They clearly set out each person’s legal entitlement, rights and responsibilities during and after the cohabitation and avoid the risk of conflict about finances when living together;

2. They give you flexibility and freedom to organise your finances as you wish;

3. They can make the end of a relationship easier and less stressful and reduce the risk of falling out over financial matters;

4. They avoid the cost and uncertainty of court proceedings and make sorting out your financial affairs faster and cheaper;

5. They can protect your future and your children’s future if you have been reliant on a partner for financial support;

6. They can preserve family assets and allow parties to safeguard their own financial security and protect future inheritance for children.

Our Family Finance team has accredited family law specialists with many years of experience advising cohabitees including issues relating to finances and children. If you would like advice about cohabitation please contact us on 020 3440 8000.

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