There is a common misconception that couples who live together have legal rights similar to those that are married or in a civil partnership, with the term ‘common law marriage' often used. In fact, cohabiting couples do not gain any automatic rights to property or assets, to maintenance payments or access to their partner's pensions if they separate or if one of them passes away.
Is there a Legal Process for Deciding Who Gets What When a Cohabiting Couple Separates?
No, there is no standard process for deciding this in the absence of any formal agreement. If a couple is married or in a civil partnership, there are legal provisions that can be used to determine how assets will be shared, but there are no equivalent provisions for cohabiting couples. Because of this, it is advised that unmarried couples enter into a cohabitation agreement which can be relied upon in the future to avoid drawn-out and expensive legal proceedings.
What is a Cohabitation Agreement?
A cohabitation agreement is a contract between you and your partner. It sets out how your finances will be managed while you are together and what will happen should you separate or if one if you die. There are a variety of reasons why couples decide to enter into a cohabitation agreement. This might be to set out your respective shares in your home or money held in joint bank accounts or to make arrangements so that the wealthier partner makes maintenance payments to the other if the relationship comes to an end. Cohabitation agreements can set out what will happen to specific assets – for example, it may specify that one partner will continue to live in the family home after a separation or that the property will be sold, and the money shared between the two parties.
Are Cohabitation Agreements Legally Binding?
By itself, a cohabitation agreement is not legally binding, but the courts will usually follow the instructions set out in an agreement if it is appropriately drafted and fair to both parties. A cohabitation agreement can be written as a formal legal deed with the support of our family lawyers, and it is essential that each partner receives appropriate independent legal advice if the agreement is to be followed by the court.
When should I make a cohabitation agreement?
Having an agreement in place as early as possible is advisable, so taking steps to do so as soon as you move in together is a sensible step. You might also want to consider a cohabitation agreement if you and your partner have recently decided that you don't wish to marry in the future, even if you have been together for many years. Whatever your circumstances, it's never too late to enter into an agreement.
Contact Our Expert Cohabitation Solicitors, St Albans
The family law solicitors at Labrums can provide comprehensive advice when it comes to putting in place a formal agreement to offer clarity and certainty, advising on the type of agreement that would be most suitable for your circumstances and what assets should be included. We provide pragmatic and professional advice in plain English, without the legal jargon.
For quality legal advice on all family law matters contact a member of our team today on 01727 263 040 or fill our online enquiry form.