Cohabitation – Know your rights!

This week, Family Lawyers Association Resolution launched its cohabitation awareness week.

The number of unmarried couples living together has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017. Many cohabiting couples are unaware of their rights, or lack of rights as a cohabitee. As a cohabiting couple you may think that you have financial rights as a ‘Common Law Spouse’ but this is a myth. Couples who cohabit simply do not have the same rights and responsibilities afforded to them by Law as married couples. This is a common misconception. Cohabitation affords little or no legal protection following the breakdown of a relationship.

Whilst cohabiting couples may have exactly the same financial commitments as married couples, such as owning a house, having a joint account and savings, however if the relationship breaks down then division of the assets is dealt differently to a married couple, often leaving the weaker partner with very little protection. As a result, some cohabiting families can find themselves facing real difficulties should they split up, particularly where children are involved.

The only way couples can protect their assets in the event they split up is to put something in writing. A formal document such as cohabitation agreement or a declaration of trust can provide such protection.

Such an agreement can set out who owns what and in what proportion. You can also record and document how you will split any property that you own, its contents, personal belongings, savings and other assets should the relationship breakdown. The agreement can also cover more day to day matters such as the way the household is run or other such circumstances specific to the relationship. Such agreements allow for transparency and certainty and avoid a situation where you leave the relationship with nothing, or where expensive court proceedings have to be started.

Not knowing your rights – or lack thereof – can be costly. Solicitors are often only instructed when things go wrong and the legal costs to rectify an issue exceed the cost of pre-empting action.

In the absence of clear statutory rights, a cohabitation agreement and or a declaration of trust can provide a framework for the division of assets and protect the rights of both parties at the end of their relationship.

If you are considering a cohabitation agreement or simply want more information, contact our Family Law Department today for a confidential free initial consultation.