Clarifying what each of you owns, as an unmarried couple, with a cohabitation agreement

  • If you are an unmarried couple living together (known as cohabiting), you have limited legal rights covering important financial aspects such as property.
  • A cohabitation agreement will help specify your rights if your relationship should break down.
  • The agreement needs to be properly drawn up to be considered in court, and we will produce a document that is clear and practical.

The law relating to cohabiting couples is completely different to law for married couples. Some people believe that if you live together for a reasonable length of time, you become ‘common law’ husband and wife, with the same legal rights as people who are married or in a civil partnership. In English law, this is not true.

This can make life very difficult if you buy or rent a house or have children together, and your relationship ends. To avoid the problems and disputes this could bring, it’s wise to enter in to a cohabitation agreement (also known as a living together agreement).

Cohabitation agreements

A cohabitation agreement can set out what happens if your relationship breaks down. It helps give you certainty about the financial contributions both of you make during the relationship. For example, it can cover property you own or rent together, how you share the household bills and expenses and all your jointly owned assets, such as a car and furniture.

If you are both living in a property that only your partner owns, the agreement needs to stipulate whether you have a share in it, perhaps because you contribute to the mortgage or household bills. Without the protection of an agreement, you might find yourself with no rights and potentially no home.

Your cohabitation agreement should also cover financial arrangements for children, whether you’ve had them together or they are from a previous relationship. It’s essential the children are still supported financially if your relationship ends.

A cohabitation agreement needs to be practical, fair and reasonable, so it stands up to legal scrutiny if you have to go to court. For this reason, it is best to have it drafted by a solicitor. With our experience of family law and relationships, we will create a cohabitation agreement that you are happy with, is workable and will be considered legally binding by the courts. Please bear in mind that we can only advise one of you, to avoid a possible conflict of interest. Your partner should have their own solicitor check the agreement too.

If you have a cohabitation agreement and later decide to get married, you can both stipulate the agreement should end when you’re married or that it stays in force. We can discuss this with you. We’ll also be happy to explain the benefits of pre-and post-marital agreements, which can give you continued certainty for the future.

Buying together

Whether you have a long or short-term relationship, buying a property together is an important step.

It should be covered in your cohabitation agreement if you have one. If you don’t have a cohabitation agreement, it is important the ownership of the property is recorded correctly so that if your relationship breaks down, you both get back the money that you intended. We can advise you on the legal documents required, and draw them up for you.

We have offices in London, Southampton, Richmond, Lymington, Woking and Guildford, and offer specialist support and expert family law advice to clients up and down the country. Contact us for more information on how we can help.

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