If you and your partner are thinking of renting or buying a property together before getting married, you won’t be surprised to learn you are not alone. In the 10 years from 2009, the proportion of families containing a cohabiting couple increased from 15.3% to 18.4%, proving a real societal shift in couples choosing to live together before or instead of getting married.
So why would you need a Family Lawyer? Well, we aren’t just here to help when relationships break down. In fact, more and more people are finding us useful when setting up a home together.
A lot of people think that ‘cohabiting’ couples have the same legal protection and rights as those who are married. In 2019, 46% of people surveyed (half of which were actually unmarried couples living together) believed in a popular notion of ‘common law marriage’ offering them the same financial orders and protection as married couples (under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973).
THIS DOES NOT EXIST.
English law does not have any statutory provisions similar to marriage for cohabiting couples. No protection, No rights. Nothing. There have been several attempts to change the law in the past 15 years, but they have all failed.
Instead, there has been the emergence of the ‘Cohabitation Agreement’.
In essence a Cohabitation agreement is very similar to a standard contract, putting in writing the arrangements for finances and assets as well as what would happen if a couple were to split. It is very much like a Pre-Nuptial agreement before marriage.
So what do you need to know?
What is a Cohabitation Agreement?
A Cohabitation Agreement is made in writing and signed by both parties in the presence of a witness. They will often, but not always, cover three main areas:
- Who owns (and owes) what at the time of the agreement, and in what proportion
- What financial arrangements are agreed when living together? (e.g. how are bills to be paid?)
- How property, assets and income should be divided in the event of relationship breakdown
If both parties are in agreement, you can include pretty much anything in the document. If there are plans for children in the relationship, provisions can be made, (but terms of any agreement are often reviewed following the birth of a child). A Family Lawyer’s job is to take you through all the possibilities.
Is a Cohabitation Agreement legally binding?
Cohabitation Agreements have received much more positive judicial reaction and support in recent times, providing encouragement and incentive for cohabiting couples to get some sort of security in place where there is a lack of legislation.
It is best practice for both parties to take their own independent legal advice in relation to the agreement, to make sure they understand what it means for them. If a party chooses not to take advice, a signed declaration or confirmation to say they have declined this is a good alternative.
Can we make a Cohabitation Agreement after moving in together?
Yes. Even if you have been living with your partner for many years, one can still be made. You can get a Family Lawyer to sort out where you are to date, and maybe a Mediator to make sure no one takes any offense during discussions.
What are the benefits of a Cohabitation Agreement?
Unlike in Divorce or Civil Partnership there are no rules if a cohabiting couple wish to separate. No one is automatically entitled to financial support or a share of a property.
What if each person is making unequal payments in the purchase of a property? What if one person is being gifted the funds? Who is paying the mortgage? Are there any endowment or savings arrangements linked to the mortgage?
A Cohabitation Agreement documents the contribution each person makes and can also record how any future equity or increase in value is divided. It can also stipulate that a property is owned solely by one party, whilst protecting the other party’s right to occupy the property.
Sorting out disputes without an agreement can be expensive and take a very long time.
Putting together a Cohabitation Agreement can also provide clarity, understanding and strenght in a relationship.
What should a Cohabitation Agreement cover?
- Shared Home
- Money and Bills (joint accounts, utilities, expenses)
- Pension and Wills
- Personal Possessions
So in conclusion….
A Cohabitation Agreement eliminates a lot of uncertainty if a couple living together splits up. It helps ease the burden of setting up a new home and the costs involved are substantially less than if a matter were to end up in court.
If you are interested or need help in drafting of a Cohabitation Agreement contact a member of the Family Team at Dutton Gregory on 01962 844333