Cohabitation agreements for unmarried partners

There are many reasons why two people might want to live together, be it based on love, friendship or just convenience for work. Cohabiting is a big step. Agreeing to share a home, splitting the bills, pooling resources.

It is very rare for both cohabiting partners to be able to contribute the same assets and finances into the partnership at the outset. One might contribute more to the deposit for the house, or be paying more towards the mortgage or rent. It may be that the person who earns more, agrees to pay most of the bills, or that one partner contributes to the relationship by giving up their job to provide childcare. This way of living is completely normal and sensible, allowing both people to contribute to their partnership in the best way they can. However, issues often arise when such arrangements are not reflected in a legally binding manner.

Topics to be answered in this article

What is a Cohabitation Agreement and why might you need one?

Unfortunately, not all relationships last forever. Couples that live together, but are not married or in a civil partnership, have no legal protection. So called ‘common law marriage’ is a myth. 

By creating a legally binding Cohabitation Agreement, both partners are expressing what they want to happen should the relationship break down, or in the case of serious illness or death. The scope of the agreement can cover property, finances, and things like care of children or pets. Cohabitation Agreements also cover situations where the cohabitation is designed, or expected to be time limited, for example two friends moving in together and sharing costs, for reasons of their job.

Who is a Cohabitation Agreement aimed at?

A Cohabitation Agreement is aimed at any unmarried couple, or those not in a civil partnership, who are living together. This may include two people who are romantically involved, friends or siblings. Simply put, anyone who is cohabiting and does not have the legal protection of a marriage or civil partnership.

What does a Cohabitation Agreement cover?

The agreement sets out how much of each asset, both parties own, as well as expectations over how household bills will be dealt with. It can also cover assets such as cars, furniture or anything not completely and obviously owned by one individual. Financial assets such as bank accounts, savings, life insurance and pensions can also be covered.There is likely to be an agreement as to what share of rent or a mortgage each person will pay. It may also be applicable to include wishes for child care and ongoing support, especially if one of the couple is acting as a non-biological carer or parent.

Where the couple own a property, details such as the deposit and mortgage contributions made, can be included. The agreement can also include wishes as to how the property might be divided in the case of the couple no longer cohabiting, or death of a partner.  Property owned before moving in together may need to be included, especially if the other partner is making contributions to either mortgage payments or indeed maintenance of the property.

Why would a couple need an agreement?

Cohabiting couples do not automatically have rights, in the same way that married couples or those in a civil partnership have. Proposed legislation giving cohabiting couples automatic rights, is still not close to being part of UK law.

A legal agreement can be very useful in case of serious illness, death, or separation. It can also avoid much larger legal bills, in the case of a future dispute. You also have the peace of mind of knowing that your wishes for the share of each other’s assets, state pension and next of kin rights, are clearly stated in a legally valid document. 

Is such an agreement legally binding?

Yes! A Cohabitation Agreement is a legally binding contract, enforceable in a UK court. The agreement needs to be drafted and executed properly, and signed as a deed. It is therefore highly recommended to obtain legal advice before preparing such an agreement. Once created, both parties should seek independent legal advice to ensure the terms of the agreement meet their expectation and understanding.

When should a cohabiting couple make an agreement?

The ideal time to draw up a Cohabitation Agreement would be before you start living together, or shortly after commencement of such a relationship. Significant changes in circumstances or responsibilities, such as the birth of a child, might also be the event that makes such an agreement more valuable. We would recommend all cohabiting couples seriously consider the merits of such a legally binding contract. A Cohabitation Agreement can be updated to reflect changes in circumstance or wishes.

How to go about creating a Cohabitation Agreement?

Before you seek professional help, it is a good idea to discuss as a couple, what you want the agreement to reflect. This might be a split of property, based on deposit contribution and ongoing mortgage payments, or simply who is responsible for paying specific bills. It should include what you wish to happen in the case that one party becomes seriously ill or unfortunately dies. 

Online templates exist, and may be useful to help guide these initial thoughts, but may miss something important out. Good legal advice is recommended and can also help avoid unintended consequences.

For an agreement to be valid in court, both parties should seek independent legal advice, to make sure there are no mistakes in the document or misunderstanding about the detail or implication of the agreement itself.

How can Goughs help?

If you are cohabiting and do not have an agreement in place, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss how we can help create a suitable one, to reflect your circumstances and wishes.

To find out more, complete our no obligation enquiry form below or call 01249 444499.

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Author Bio

Ross Phillips

I joined Goughs as a trainee solicitor and since qualifying, I have worked my way up from solicitor to associate, senior associate and in 2020 I became a partner.

I thrive on obtaining favourable financial settlements for my clients and achieving a fair outcome for parents who may be having difficulties managing childrens’ arrangements with their ex-partners.

I tailor my approach to disputes depending upon the client’s individual needs. I am regularly instructed by those going through an acrimonious separation who require support throughout and often a forensic analysis of assets where money has been dissipated or hidden.

I apply a robust approach to resolve disputes quickly and in the best interests of the client. I give pragmatic and commercial advice at an early stage where there is a risk to one party’s financial security or where the other spouse is seeking to delay, obstruct or frustrate what should otherwise be an amicable reconstruction of the couples’ finances following separation.

I am happy to offer a free 30-minute consultation at short notice and am very willing to be flexible as to the timing of such appointments.

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