If you are planning to buy a property with your partner, or are already living with them in a property that one of you owns, you should consider having a Living Together Agreement or Cohabitation Agreement which clearly records what property you each own at the start of your relationship and how you intend to manage your finances such as paying the mortgage while you are living together.
Laws around Living Together
Creating a cohabitation agreement is important because there is still no law in England and Wales that allows for the assets of cohabiting couples to be divided after a separation in the way that they would be after marriage.
After a divorce, the law looks to share the family assets along principles of need and fairness which take a starting point of an equal division, irrespective of who legally owns any property, but the same law does not apply to couples who have not married. If you separate after living together the general rule is that you leave the relationship with any property or other assets, such as savings or investments, that you legally own in your name. This can often result in a sense of unfairness or hardship, particularly if one of you feels you have made significant contributions in terms of financial or family commitment, such as looking after the home or family, which is not reflected in how you own the assets if your relationship if it ends.
While it is possible to make or defend a cohabitation dispute in the civil courts about how a property or other assets owned either by one of you or jointly should be shared, these cases are usually complicated and can be costly and time-consuming to resolve. These cases require the court to look at and interpret evidence of contributions and agreements which can be hard to prove, particularly after a long relationship.
The best way to avoid this difficulty and uncertainty is to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement, which you can update to record any change in your intentions during your relationship. This is a document that clearly records your circumstances and intentions, including:
- What property you each own at the start of your relationship;
- How you intend to own any property that you buy during your relationship. This is particularly relevant if for example, you buy a property you intend to own together but only one of you is able to take out a mortgage and own the legal title.
- Who will be responsible for any mortgage payments and other outgoings and whether you intend this to be reflected in the shares you will have in any property you own if you separate.
- Whether having children together will change how you intend to share or own your property;
- How you would intend to divide your property and other financial assets if you separate.
At David Gray, we have solicitors who are specialists in the law affecting people who are Cohabiting and we can advise you on all aspects whether you are planning to live together or already doing so. Some of our cohabitation specialists are also trained Collaborative lawyers and we can offer you this option to use to agree to the terms of your agreement.
Frequently asked questions
What is a cohabitation agreement?
A cohabitation agreement is a legally binding document between an unmarried couple who are living together. The agreement records the arrangements for the property, assets, finances and children whilst you are living together and what would happen in the event of the breakdown of the relationship.
Do I need a cohabitation agreement?
In short, it provides financial security. Couples who live together and are not married do not have the same legal protection and rights as married couples. A cohabitation agreement sets out what happens to assets and responsibilities during and after your relationship and provides peace of mind and protection to the couple and their family. A cohabitation agreement can also be useful alongside your Will and provide protection to your partner in the event of your passing. You can seek advice in respect of a cohabitation agreement before you plan to live together, once you are living together or following a life event such as having children or purchasing a house together. It is important to seek specialist advice to ensure the agreement is legally binding upon you both.
What happens when unmarried couples break up?
Couples who live together and are not married do not have the same legal protection and rights as married couples. Unmarried couples cannot claim against the assets of the other following the breakdown of the relationship, except in limited circumstances. You can contact our family law team to discuss your individual circumstances. You would each retain assets you hold in your sole name and any joint assets would be dealt with between you by agreement or applying to the Court. You may have to sell joint property and our property team can assist you if this becomes necessary.
Is there such a thing as a common law marriage?
No. If you and your partner are not married but are living together you may wish to explore with a solicitor how to protect your interest in any assets you both may have. The law is very different to married couples, and there is no guarantee that you will be financially secure should you separate, regardless of how long you have been together.
We are not married but ex-partner is making claim on my house- what can I do?
Whilst your ex-partner may not be a legal owner of the property, that does not mean they may not have an interest in it. This area of the law is complex and it is best to take legal advice sooner rather than later, particularly if you receive Court papers, as there are strict rules to follow and cost consequences should you be unsuccessful.