Cohabiting Couples: How to Protect Your Interests
Recent research conducted by the University of Exeter has unveiled that 46% of people in England and Wales incorrectly believe that unmarried, cohabiting couples form a “common law marriage” which affords them legal status similar to those enjoyed by married couples - see their article here.
In fact, no such common law marriage, or indeed specific legal rights for cohabiting couples exist, meaning that cohabiting couples are limited in how the law can protect their legal and beneficial ownership of a property.
There are, however, some ways for cohabiting couples to protect their interests in the absence of any specific legislation; namely, by entering into what is known as a cohabitation agreement.
A cohabitation agreement records the arrangements reached between parties who live together; setting out each of their rights, responsibilities and financial arrangements in relation to the property and any personal property both during and following cohabitation should there be a relationship breakdown. Cohabitation agreements do not apply only to jointly owned properties, but also to property that is rented, owned solely by one party or indeed owned jointly in equal or unequal shares. The agreement can be a perfect opportunity to record these arrangements, which could otherwise be disputed.
Not only does this provide clarity for both parties from the outset of the agreement being created, but it also proves valuable where a cohabiting relationship breaks down and parties otherwise dispute their respective shares in a property. This is particularly the case where the property is legally owned by one party, but the cohabiting party has made other financial or domestic contributions which they may well feel they have a right to benefit from. A cohabitation agreement can avoid this kind of uncertainty by regulating any rights that either party has over the property (both legally and beneficially) and what should happen to the property upon a relationship breaking down. Ultimately, having a cohabitation agreement in place and discussing each party’s rights and obligations in relation to the property at the outset of living together can therefore avoid the acrimony, cost and uncertainty of litigation after cohabitation ends.
If you are planning to, or already, cohabit and feel this is something you should consider, then please do feel free to contact me as I would be happy to discuss matters further with you.
Written by Ella-Jade Higgins, January 2019