It often comes as a surprise to couples who live together and are not married or in a civil partnership, that there is no statutory law in England and Wales to protect them or govern what happens when a relationship breaks down. The phrase, ‘common-law husband or wife’ has no meaning in law.
Dealing with relationship breakdown issues between cohabiting couples currently involves turning to complex principles of property, trust and contract law. This is all further complicated in the event of one of the partners passing away, or where children are involved.
Fortunately, cohabiting couples can avoid some of these issues by entering into a cohabitation agreement, a legal document which sets out what will happen to your money, property, and personal belongings in the event you break up.
Our skilled family lawyers have substantial experience helping clients agree the terms of cohabitation agreements which protect their best financial interest, minimising potential for uncertainty and conflict in the future.
We understand that talking about the prospect of breaking up can be unpleasant. Our aim is to make your cohabitation agreement experience as straightforward and stress-free as possible. Amongst our family team we have qualified collaborative lawyers who can guide and facilitate your discussions in a friendly and neutral environment.
What rights do cohabiting couples have?
If you’re living with a partner but you’re not married (referred to as cohabiting) you will typically have fewer rights than married couples or civil partners.
For example, whereas married couples who divorce, or civil partners who have their partnership dissolved, have a legal right to maintenance, a share of assets including pension sharing, there are no such automatic rights for cohabiting couples, regardless of how long they have been together or whether they have children.
Important differences between marriage/civil partnerships and cohabitation include:
- Unmarried couples will be treated as two separate individuals in law. For example, if you and your partner have separate bank accounts, you are not entitled to funds in the other’s account. If your partner passes away, the money in the account will form part of their estate and cannot be accessed until the estate is administered, depending on a Will.
- If your property is owned in only one of your names, if you break up, the legal owner will retain full ownership of the property and it can be difficult to prove the other partner has any beneficial entitlement.
- The father or second parent of any children will not automatically have parental responsibility. They can acquire parental responsibility if:
- They and the mother are married or in a civil partnership
- He is the father and his name is listed on the birth certificate (the mother must accompany him to do this)
- They make a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
- The court makes a parental responsibility order
What is a cohabitation agreement?
If you’re living with a partner but you’re unmarried and concerned about what could happen should the relationship break down, the solution is to have a cohabitation agreement drawn up.
These agreements, also known as ‘living together agreements’, set out who owns what and in what proportion. They allow you to put in writing how your property, assets and belongings will be split should the relationship break down.
A cohabitation agreement can also be used to document how you and your partner will share the everyday finances while you live together.
Our cohabitation agreement solicitors’ expertise
At Pickering & Butters, our family lawyers can help you come to a robust cohabitation agreement designed to protect your financial interests and save you potential emotional stress in the future.
We have extensive experience in drafting these documents and can also offer practical advice and helpful guidance if you are facing a relationship breakdown with a cohabitee where no agreement was in place. Our comprehensive service includes:
- Advice on your rights and legal position as a cohabitee
- Engaging in informal discussions and advising on the content of your agreement
- Helping you access Alternative Dispute Resolution methods, such as mediation and collaborative law
- Advising in relation to declaration of trust deeds – legally binding agreements between co-owners of property setting out how interests in the property are held
- Drafting and reviewing the terms of cohabitation agreements
- Assisting in cohabitation disputes, including issues arising out of cohabitation agreements and issues arising from a lack of formal agreement in place
What should be included in a cohabitation agreement?
A strong cohabitation agreement should include:
- How assets, money, and personal belongings are owned
- How assets, money, and personal belongings, whether owned individually or jointly, should be arranged and divided after separation
- How household expenses such as the mortgage, rent, and bills should be paid
- Who gets to live in the family home and whether it should be sold
- Arrangements for children, including where they should live and how much contact the non-resident parent should have
- Arrangements for child maintenance payments
- Next of kin rights
For added protection, we can help you create a declaration of trust deed which sets out how the interests in a property you both own are set out. Our Wills and probate team can also help you make a Will to leave your money and assets to your partner if you unfortunately pass away.
Do cohabitation agreements hold up in court?
Cohabitation agreements are not technically legally binding but are highly likely to be upheld in court if:
- You and your partner both enter into the agreement freely and willingly
- The agreement is executed as a deed
- You and your partner both sign it
- It’s kept up to date and reflects the reality of your life
- You and your partner both get independent legal advice
Why choose Pickering & Butters’ family law solicitors?
At Pickering & Butters, we focus on providing authentic solutions to real-life problems. We’re proud to have served our local communities across Staffordshire for decades and we have an enviable reputation for our perfect mix of expert legal knowledge and friendly, approachable customer service.
We’ve been awarded the Law Society Lexcel Accreditation, the legal practice quality mark for firms which demonstrate excellent client care and legal practice management. This means you can trust our service to be professional, efficient, and cost-effective.
We’re motivated to help you achieve a positive outcome to your matter as amicably as possible. Our family lawyers are members of Alternative Dispute Resolution organisation, Resolution. Our team includes collaborative lawyers, Amy Bedford and Gill Patterson, who can help you access the vastly successful collaborative law process, a method of meeting informally with your partner to discuss and negotiate your cohabitation agreement.
Pickering & Butters is independently regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).