With the number of cohabiting-couple families continuing to grow faster than married couple and lone-parent families (an increase of over 25% over the last decade according to the ONS), it seems that living with a partner either before, or instead of, marriage, is becoming more and more popular.
What is cohabitation?
When a couple live together but are not married, this is known as cohabitation.
Couples choose to move in together without getting married for a number of reasons. For some, marriage has become an outdated and unnecessary practice. For others, it is just a matter of timing; marriage may happen in the future, but they would like to live together first.
What rights do I have when cohabiting with my partner?
In virtually all cases, married couples will have more legal rights than those who are cohabiting. You may hear people talking about a common-law husband or wife. There is a common misconception that people who having been living together for a long time somehow acquire common-law marriage status. In England and Wales, this is simply not true: no matter how long a couple have cohabited, they remain, legally, separate people.
An unmarried couple living together do not have the same legal protections as a married couple. What’s more, there is no specific law which deals with separating cohabiting couples in England and Wales. This means that if there are issues when a couple separate, various different, often complex, areas of law will dictate what should happen – if the law can interevent at all. As these laws aren’t specifically designed with cohabiting couples in mind, the outcome can often be unpredictable. The main areas in which the law can be useful relate to ownership of brick and mortar property if joint ownership or a trust can be found, and matters relating to children. There is nothing though which would entitle a cohabitee to financial support for themselves or a share of assets in which they are not the legal owner. Essentially, the law treats cohabitees like flatmates.
As a result, many people could be putting their financial situation at risk. If the relationship breaks down or one party dies, one partner could find that they are left with very little and, in a worst case scenario, could even find themselves homeless.
What is a cohabitation agreement?
A cohabitation agreement is a legal document which deals with everything from what would happen to the property and any joint assets, to who will be responsible for the pets, if the relationship breaks down in the future.
If there is a dispute following the breakdown of a relationship, court proceedings can be costly and complicated. Entering into a cohabitation agreement and agreeing how things will work beforehand, can help to avoid having to go to court or provide a mechanism for solving disputes in areas the court does not have jurisdiction.
Cohabitation agreements are not legally binding in England and Wales If you’re considering moving in with your partner or if you’re already cohabiting, make it your New Year’s resolution to find out if a cohabitation agreement could be right for you.
Get to know your options by booking a free 30-minute consultation with one of our experienced family lawyers.