Cohabitation Agreement: Why and How to Protect yourself in all Eventualities

Vanessa Fox Partner and Head of Family Law, hlw Keeble Hawson
Vanessa Fox
Partner and Head of Family Law,
hlw Keeble Hawson

More people than ever before are choosing to live together without ‘tying the knot’ – as reinforced by research from the ESRC Centre for Population Change.

Yet, with Relate reporting that separation among cohabiting couples is running neck-and-neck with the divorce rate, it is vital that they know the legal ramifications of their status and are not left disadvantaged by it.

Despite the government’s attempts at promoting marriage and civil partnerships, it is estimated that around six million people in the UK now simply live together – with the numbers set to rise, according to reports from the Centre of Social Justice.

However, these couples have no legal status and, contrary to popular belief, ‘common law marriage’ is not a legal entity.

Whereas there are clear rules in England and Wales regulating the finances of divorcing couples – and who gets what when a spouse or civil partner dies – there is no provision for live-in partners.

There are no specific laws to protect separating cohabitees and they usually have no automatic entitlement to anything upon the death of their partner, no matter how long they have lived together.

The death or separation of a cohabitee can therefore lead to some knotty legal complications that the law is poorly equipped to address at present. This can result in expensive litigation to resolve them, often based on complex property and trust rules – which can in turn result in outcomes that neither party necessarily intended.

There is, however, a simple, relatively inexpensive solution to all of this, albeit a little known one.

For while increasing numbers of couples are entering into pre-nuptial agreements before marrying, to plan in the best of times for what should happen in the worst of times, many cohabiting couples are unaware that they can do something similar.

Having a cohabitation agreement in place could avoid financial and emotional trauma later on.

This can give both partners peace of mind by making clear in the case of a split or death:

  • Who will own the home you live in or intend to live in – and, if jointly, the shares
  • Who will pay the bills, including any improvements or renovations to the home
  • What will happen to the property if the relationship ends or should one of you die
  • Whether the survivor can stay in the property after the death of the other and, if so, for how long
  • How any children, including those from previous relationships, will be protected financially

The first step is to make contact with a legal practice with an experienced, respected team of family and will and estate planning specialists to discuss your specific circumstances and what you need to consider.

Acknowledged the latest Legal 500 2015 Guide as ‘Extremely bright and resourceful’, Vanessa has amassed almost three decades of experience in family law and has been head of the family law team at Keeble Hawson since 1991.

An accredited mediator, Vanessa is also a Resolution accredited expert and has been Chair of South Yorkshire Resolution since 2013.

A member of the Law Society’s Children’s Panel, Vanessa receives instructions from Children’s Guardians. She is also accredited by the Law Society Family Law Panel.

Vanessa’s work is typically characterised by sensible and practical advice that supports a speedy and pragmatic resolution.

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