Since the government advised dating couples to go into lockdown together to reduce the risk of passing on the virus, the Institute for Employment Studies estimates employment has plummeted to two million during the first month of the crisis.
The loss of jobs on such a major scale will undoubtedly result in couples, whose relationship withstands the lockdown measures, moving in permanently together for practical and financial reasons to reduce the costs of running two homes.
In these unprecedented times it is more vital than ever that cohabiting couples understand that they do not have the same legal rights as married couples in critical areas such as savings, income, pensions, business interests – and in particular, property.
Despite a long-standing campaign – of which Jones Myers has been at the forefront – to reform cohabitation legislation, the stark reality is that the current law does not offer them any protection should separation become inevitable.
We therefore urge unmarried partners to consider a cohabitation or ‘living together’ agreement which encourages people to think clearly about what they want to happen, not only while they live together, but also if their relationship ends.
Cohabitation agreements set out who owns what and in what proportion, how property will be divided along with what will happen with personal belongings, savings, debts, pensions and other assets should couples split up.
Documenting how children will be supported, it outlines how to deal with bank accounts, debts and joint purchases such as a house or car. The agreement can also address pet “custody” issues.
A cohabitation agreement can be drafted either prior to – or during a couple’s time together. It can likewise be amended as long as both parties agree that the original agreement should be changed and how.
Although it may not be deemed romantic to agree the ‘what if’ scenarios should one partner leave, win the lottery or die, putting in place this safeguard can potentially save emotional and financial trauma at a later stage.
The arrangement, which is enforceable, can be set up through virtual “round-table” meetings within the collaborative process and can reduce the likelihood of cohabitees being left destitute.
It is important that each party seeks independent legal advice and discloses all financial information in the lead up to signing the agreement, which should be reviewed regularly.
Jones Myers has extensive experience in drafting cohabitation agreements and, sadly, in dealing with disputes arising from separations where there has been no such agreement.
About Peter Jones
Peter Jones is one of the country’s leading divorce and family lawyers. A qualified arbitrator and mediator, Peter set up Jones Myers as the first niche family law firm in the north of England in 1992 and has acted for a string of high-profile clients.
Renowned for his sympathetic approach, he is a former national chairman of Resolution, a former Deputy District Judge – and instigated the D5 Group of law firms that promotes excellence in family law. www.jonesmyers.co.uk