a family of a man, woman and two children hugging and smiling

The number of cohabiting couples in the UK has been steadily rising in the last two decades, and the number of cohabiting couples with children has more than doubled since 1996. However, there have been almost no changes in how the law treats couples who are living together but are not in a marriage or civil partnership. In the event that the partnership breaks down, agreeing on issues relating to your children, finances and property can lead to serious difficulties for a cohabiting couple as legally they are not obliged to support each other financially.

What about common law marriage?

You may have heard a phrase like ‘common law marriage’ used before, and many people assume this applies to a cohabiting couple, granting them similar rights to a married couple after living together for a significant period of time. In reality, there is no such thing as common law marriage, and terms like ‘common law spouse’ have no legal definition. Your rights as a cohabiting partner are not the same as that of a married partner, and you will not have much legal protection if your relationship ends. For example, you will not have a claim to property unless your name is on the deeds, and you may not get a say in your child’s upbringing.

The only solution for couples who live together to get legal protection in case of a relationship breakdown is to marry or enter into a partnership – or write up a cohabitation agreement, also known as a living together agreement. Such an agreement can help resolve a lot of the issues which may otherwise arise during relationship problems or a split.

What is a cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is, for the most part, a record of what you own and how everything will be shared or divided. All couples who live together but aren’t married can benefit from such an agreement, even if they have only been together for a short time. When couples split up, it can become difficult to remember who purchased what, who has contributed more towards the rent or mortgage, and there may be disagreements about who will continue living at the property. It can also be hard to prove which personal or sentimental items belong to which partner. In the case of a cohabitation agreement, these matters would already be clearly defined.

Signing a cohabitation agreement can be as romantic as a married couple signing a marriage certificate during a wedding ceremony. In a similar way, committing yourselves as a cohabiting couple on paper is a significant moment. It’s practical too, as it protects your rights as it would benefit a married couple, enabling you to reduce conflict and stress should some unfortunate events happen in the future.

What to include in your agreement

Your cohabitation agreement should clearly define who owns what in the home and how the property is split. Contents, personal belongings, bank accounts, debts and major or joint purchases should all be included. You should be clear about who will continue living at the property if the relationship ends; this is particularly important if you have children. You will also need to include details about any additional financial support that will be provided for your children beyond basic legal requirements.

The cohabitation agreement does not have to just be about what happens in the event of a breakdown – it can also define how your finances work as a couple, such as who pays for particular household expenses and how you want to split joint bank accounts. This can help avoid general arguments and make sure both of you know exactly what your responsibilities are on a day-to-day basis.

Call us today

At Foys Solicitors, we understand that every relationship is different, and that marriage is not the best current option for many couples. We have solicitors experienced in all aspects of Family Law and can help you construct a cohabitation agreement that suits everyone, securing your family’s future.

If you are looking to write a cohabitation agreement – contact us using our Quick Online Form, or call your local Foys Solicitors office:

  • Doncaster – 01302 327 136
  • Retford – 01777 703 100
  • Worksop – 01909 500 511
  • Clowne – 01246 810 050
  • Rotherham – 01709 375 561
  • Sheffield (Waterthorpe) – 0114 251 1702
  • Sheffield (Chapeltown) – 0114 246 7609

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