Cohabiting couples are now the fastest growing family type in the UK, but the law doesn’t recognise these families in the same way as married couple or civil partners.
Rights of cohabiting couples
So, what rights do cohabiting couples have if their relationship breaks down?
The idea of a common-law marriage is, unfortunately, a myth although many (46% of) people believe that as long as they have lived together with their partner for long enough, they acquire the same rights as a married couple. This is not the case.
If you are not married, it doesn’t matter how long you live together. Your status doesn’t change, and you do not acquire any automatic rights to share in any property owned solely by your partner. You are also not automatically entitled to a share in a partner’s estate if they die without a will.
If you and your partner have discussed what would happen to any properties owned by either of you solely, e.g. you had always understood that although you were not a named owner, you would still be entitled to share in the future sale proceeds, then it is important that this is recorded in a formal agreement and/or Trust Deed to avoid problems in the future.
A Trust Deed, however, will only deal with the property ownership and not any other matters the couple wishes to record e.g. ownership of vehicles, caravans, what might happen to the family pet in the event of a separation. These matters can be contained within a Cohabitation Agreement (also known as a Living Together Agreement).
An agreement of this nature can make all the difference should a cohabiting couple separate as it would set out who owns what and in what proportion (and how it would be divided if you were to separate). It can also outline how any children would be supported and how joint debts, bank accounts, savings and other items (such as a car) will be treated.
If you are living with your partner and you are happy to maintain the status quo of your relationship, i.e. you do not intend to marry or entire into a civil partnership, it would be worthwhile for you both to think about drawing up such an agreement.
How Tozers can help
No-one likes to think about the possibility that their relationship may come to an end but taking the time now to put in place a document which sets out very clearly your intentions could save you a lot of worry and expense in the future. A Cohabitation Agreement helps to create certainty as to what would happen in the event of the subsequent breakdown of the relationship.
Resolution, an organisation for family lawyers, is calling on its members to help shape the future of family law particularly regarding cohabitation law reform.