Increasingly, couples are choosing to live together without getting married or entering into a civil partnership.

It is important to understand, however, that cohabiting couples do not enjoy the same legal rights as those who are married or in a civil partnership, even if they have lived together for a long period of time and have children.

A cohabitation agreement entered into between a couple can set out the arrangements for finances, property and other assets and the parties’ respective financial rights should the  relationship break down. A cohabitation agreement can also regulate financial affairs during the relationship. Without such an agreement, the rights of cohabiting parties are limited.

Our team of divorce and family law experts can put together a comprehensive cohabitation agreement that will outline your rights and responsibilities as a cohabiting couple. This will be legally binding if you later separate.

Please get in touch to learn more about cohabitation agreements or to discuss your circumstances.

What is a cohabitation agreement?

Many couples living together choose to enter into a cohabitation agreement. A cohabitation agreement is a legally binding document between unmarried couples who are living together and can provide clarity on relationship breakdown.

The agreement sets out the ownership of existing assets, each person’s financial responsibilities during the relationship, and how savings, investments, property and other jointly-owned assets would be divided in the event of separation.

What does a cohabitation agreement cover?

A cohabitation agreement can set out arrangements regarding:

  • Property ownership, including property owned before moving in together (pre-owned assets) and property bought while living together
  • Mortgage and rent
  • Household bills/living expenses
  • Bank accounts, savings and investments
  • Life insurance
  • Pensions
  • Debts
  • Pets
  • Gifts
  • Next of kin rights
  • Wills and estate rights
  • Pensions
  • Other assets, including cars, furniture, art, jewellery and other property

The parties may also wish to consider financial provision for any children over and above what would be expected by the Child Maintenance Service minimum assessment (such as school fees or costs of university) as well as arrangements for children should the relationship end. Parental rights and responsibilities with respect to children are enshrined in law, but a cohabitation agreement can assist in avoiding a dispute arising on separation.

Who does a cohabitation agreement protect?

A cohabitation agreement protects both parties in the event of a breakup. It operates similarly to a pre-nuptial agreement and clearly outlines how shared or pre-owned assets will be divided between the parties.

A cohabitation agreement can also be beneficial in providing financial certainty if, for example, one person has given up their job to care for the children and, as a result, is in a financially weaker position.

Why should I have a cohabitation agreement?

There is a common misconception that people who live together but are not legally married will be protected by common law marriage. However, common law marriage does not exist in law. This means that despite living together, couples do not have the same automatic legal rights as married couples or those in a civil partnership.

If you live together but are not married, you have:

  • No automatic right to your partner’s property in the event of their death
  • No automatic entitlement to inherit their estate, even if you have children together
  • No tax reliefs or exemptions that married and civil couples enjoy, such as those relating to pensions on divorce

This is why a cohabitation agreement is important.

A cohabitation agreement can provide peace of mind in not only regulating how the parties conduct their financial affairs during their cohabiting relationship but also in confirming the financial consequences should they separate or on death. This means that both cohabiting parties will:

  • Have a clear understanding of their financial commitments
  • Avoid any misunderstandings regarding their rights and responsibilities
  • Avoid any difficulties or disagreements if they later split up
  • Have clear evidence of intentions if they ever have to go to court

For example, a cohabitation agreement can ensure that you have a share of each others’ assets or access to each others’ state pension or next of kin rights in a medical emergency. A cohabitation agreement can also help you divide bills and other responsibilities while you live together.

Is a cohabitation agreement legally binding?

Provided they are correctly drafted and executed properly as a deed, cohabitation agreements are legally binding contracts which, if necessary, are enforceable by a court. They are very effective and highly recommended. If you have to seek enforcement of a cohabitation agreement, this will be handled by the Family Court.

What is the legal position if my partner and I live in a property one of us owns?

If you both live in a property owned by one of you, the cohabitation agreement will set out your rights to the property and make it far easier for you both to understand where you both stand if you separate.

If you own the property and don’t have a cohabitation agreement, your partner may be able to claim a beneficial interest in your property. If they are successful, they may have the right to live in the property, receive a share of the income if it is rented out, or receive a share of the profit if the property is sold.

What happens to a cohabitation agreement if one of us dies?

It is important that you outline your wishes in your cohabitation agreement and have an up-to-date will to ensure that both parties are protected if one dies while cohabiting.

How we can help with cohabitation agreements

When drawing up a cohabitation agreement, it is important to seek legal advice to ensure the agreement is correctly drafted and executed and is legally binding and that you are both clear about what you are agreeing to.

Our skilled and experienced team of divorce and family lawyers can prepare a comprehensive cohabitation agreement that meets your needs, giving you peace of mind that you will be protected in the event of relationship breakdown.

Meet our Divorce and Family team

Our Divorce and Family team at Stewarts is the pre-eminent divorce and family practice in the UK, ranked number 1 in both The Legal 500 and Chambers.

What are the next steps?

We know that discussions about cohabitation can be sensitive. We take great care to adapt our approach to your individual circumstances, helping you reach an agreement that will meet your specific requirements.

To find out how we can help you or to discuss your circumstances, please get in touch.

If you require assistance, please contact us or request a call from one of our lawyers.

Meet the Divorce and Family team

Our team is the pre-eminent divorce and family practice in the UK, ranked No.1 in both The Legal 500 and Chambers.

In an article in The Times, head of department Stephen Foster is “praised for leading Stewarts’ phalanx of family lawyers to the top of the pack”.

Stephen Foster, Partner, Head of Divorce and Family, Stewarts