Many unmarried couples living together in England wrongly believe that they have the same legal protection as a married couple.
The fact is, in England and Wales, there is no such thing as a 'common law spouse.' This means, if you separate from your partner, you may either have no claims for financial assistance against your former partner or you may have limited claims in relation to property and financial support for children. To provide certainty in the event of a future separation, it is advisable to enter into a cohabitation agreement during the relationship.
At Burgess Mee, our expert cohabitation agreement solicitors in London (located in Hammersmith and Clapham) have been helping unmarried couples to draft robust, enforceable living together agreements which bring clarity and confidence to their financial and living arrangements.
What is a cohabitation agreement?
Couples who live together but are not married or in a civil partnership are referred to as ‘cohabitants.’
A cohabitation agreement, or a living together agreement, is a formal, legally binding contract between a couple who have decided to live together, but remain unmarried, which will be enforced by the courts if they later break-up. It may also contain provisions to be later reflected in a will made by each party.
Its main purpose is to set out the financial arrangements between you and your partner and protect any assets you owned before you began living together. It will regulate what happens during the relationship relating to property and what will happen in the event you decide to separate. It can also address the arrangements for any children, both in terms of financial support and how they will share their time with each parent, though there are important caveats to this (see below).
What are the benefits of having a cohabitation agreement?
A cohabitation agreement sets out the rights and obligations you and your partner have towards each other.
Having a cohabitation agreement will not only protect your share in a property and define how your property will be owned, it will also help you formalise how you and your partner will live together on a day-to-day basis. It can be a flexible document and could include provision for the following:
- Whether you intend to keep your incomes separate
- Whether you remain the owner of assets you had before you started living together
- Who is the owner of the home
- Who is the owner of individual and joint assets
- Whether assets acquired jointly, while you live together, are owned jointly and considered joint property
- Whether assets acquired by one of you, whilst living together, still remain individual property
- Whether debts acquired jointly, whilst living together, are a joint responsibility
- Whether living expenses will be paid equally or in a formally agreed proportion
- Who will be responsible for paying bills and whether payment will be made from a joint bank account
- What will happen if you separate and want to end the agreement
- Whether one party will pay any income to the other party if they separate
- The financial arrangements for the children (though this cannot oust the ability of the Court to address claims in respect of the children)
- How each child will spend their time with each parent. It is important to note that circumstances can and frequently do change. If any application was made to the Court, a cohabitation agreement would not necessarily be upheld as the priority is always the welfare of any children.
A cohabitation agreement will help ensure that your break-up is as amicable as possible by having already addressed the division of any assets and how any joint liabilities will be dealt with. This can help you avoid any future misunderstandings which can lead to conflicts and disputes that end up in court.
Why a cohabitation agreement is essential for unmarried couples
If you are an unmarried couple, you do not have the same legal rights as a married couple if you separate. This means that, without a cohabitation agreement in place, you could be left with nothing when your relationship comes to an end.
Unlike married couples or civil partners, who have legal rights to maintenance, property and assets, the law does not recognise you as a cohabiting couple living together outside of marriage or civil partnership, no matter how many years you have been together or whether you have children together.
Property sharing can give rise to disputes about ownership. If you are not married and separate from your partner, neither you nor your partner will be entitled to maintenance for yourself or to a share of any assets that are not in joint names or in respect of which there is no trust deed setting out the shares in which you hold them. Recording your wishes in a cohabitation agreement (which is similar to a prenuptial agreement in terms of what it can cover though they operate in different ways) can therefore be viewed as a practical precaution.
How can Burgess Mee help me with a cohabitation agreement?
If you and your partner are unmarried and living together, or are intending to move in together, it is a good idea that you take proactive steps to protect yourselves by making a cohabitation agreement with one of our specialist solicitors at Burgess Mee. This will minimise any financial or legal problems that could arise if you decide to separate or if one of you dies.
Our expert team of cohabitation lawyers and mediators in London will be able to guide you through all the important decisions you need to make, advising you of your rights and responsibilities and outlining the options best suited to your individual situation and precise circumstances.
We will help tailor your agreement to your requirements as a couple covering all aspects relating to property, household expenditure and termination provisions so you can have the confidence and peace of mind that everything has been properly considered, taken care of and planned for.
In order to ensure that your cohabitation agreement has the best chance of being legally enforceable, you and your partner will both need to seek independent legal advice before making and signing a cohabitation agreement.
For your cohabitation agreement to have the best chance of being legally enforceable, you will need to prove to a court that both you and your partner:
- Understood the nature and purpose of the agreement
- Were not subject to pressure to make or sign the agreement
- Were fully aware of the contents of the agreement
- Provided full and frank financial disclosure of your circumstances in advance of signing the agreement
- Intended for the agreement to be legally enforceable
- Did not enter the agreement under a misrepresentation
Contact our specialist London Cohabitation Agreement solicitors in Clapham and Hammersmith
If you and your partner are thinking of living together or if you have already moved in together and would like some clarity and certainty about your living arrangements, our family lawyers at Burgess Mee will be happy to speak with you and advise you of your options and the best way forward.
For more information and specialist advice on cohabitation agreements or to make an appointment to see one of our specialist cohabitation agreement lawyers in Hammersmith or Clapham London, telephone us on 0203 824 9950, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or complete our online enquiry form and we will get back to you.