It’s a commonly understood misbelief that cohabiting couples are in a common-law relationship and therefore, have the same rights and legal protection as those who are either married or in a civil partnership.
However, this isn’t the case. The law in England and Wales does not consider that those living together are in a legal relationship. This means that should a relationship break down, those involved are not protected or governed by law, common or otherwise.
So if you are thinking about co-habiting, or are already co-habiting, how can you protect yourself in the event of a relationship breakdown?
Buying a property
Because there is no common law governing couples who live or buy property together, it is important to agree from the outset the level of deposit and share in any sale proceedings (or negative equity) that each will receive upon the sale of the property.
Similarly to pre-nuptial agreements, cohabitation agreements set out exactly who owns what going into the shared home, and identify who owns what percentage of shared assets.
Cohabitation agreements can also be used very proactively. After the initial honeymoon period of living together has passed, regularly occurring misunderstandings around who is paying the mortgage, looking after maintenance and so on can be avoided by all having been agreed upfront. So from the outset, the couple is on a superb footing.
Because unmarried couples are not legally recognised in England and Wales the remaining party of a cohabiting couple may not automatically inherit any assets unless a Will is in place.
Changes in your situation
Just like your Will, a cohabitation agreement may need to be updated as circumstances change. For example, if you have children together, or there are changes in your extended family that feature in your cohabitation agreement the agreement should be updated to reflect these changes.
If you’re thinking about moving into a shared property with a friend or partner, then a cohabitation agreement should be your first port of call. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.