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Cohabitation and marriage - new year, new us?

View profile for Kirsty Morris
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With the new year comes a renewed focus on aims and objectives for the year ahead. In addition to thinking about holiday plans and home renovation projects, attention can be turned to ‘relationship goals’. One question the Burgess Mee team is asked from time to time is to explain the difference between what may happen if a relationship ends following either cohabitation or marriage.

People marry for different reasons depending on their age and stage of life, religious views and spiritual beliefs and personal values. While the socio-economic benefits of being in a marriage are beyond the scope of this blog, I have set out below a broad list of the pros and cons to help inform any decisions being made by individuals planning for their future together.

With cohabitation comes autonomy. You retain the absolute right to decide how your money and property is owned and distributed. This suits many couples (survey after survey tells us that cohabitation is the most prolific relationship status). However, when things go wrong, the legal framework applicable to cohabitants is piecemeal and you must rely on laws regulating the ownership of property, financial provision for any children and (in the case of one party’s death) laws on inheritance.

Marriage, on the other hand, is a legal union which confers consequences which may far outweigh even the most expensive wedding celebration. A marriage gives rise to claims against your spouses’ property, company, pension and bank accounts. You also become tied to their debts. Marriage is legal partnership and one way to extinguish some potential fall out if the marriage were to end is to draw up a pre or post nuptial agreement. Conversely, one way to try and confer rights on a partner you live with is to enter into a cohabitation agreement. Members of the Burgess Mee team can discuss a legal pro/con list for those too.     

Cohabitation can be intended to create permanent union for some couples and others will want to try and limit the impact marriage and any potential divorce may have on their personal assets. Advice should be taken at an early stage about the legal commitment which flows from a relationship and whether that aligns with personal beliefs and your joint intentions.

Kirsty Morris is a specialist in the law surrounding cohabiting couples and is a member of the Resolution Cohabitation Committee. If you would like to talk to her or any of our other solicitors about taking the next step, please visit our website or contact us on 0203 824 9950 or