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Cohabitation/ Unmarried Couples

Cohabitation/ Unmarried Couples

Setting Up Home Together

If you are planning to live with your partner, then it pays to seek legal advice from our experienced family solicitors to understand your legal position.  The law relating to unmarried families is greatly misunderstood.  The concept of being treated as a common law husband and wife because of a significant period of living together is a myth.

Although more couples are choosing to cohabit rather than marry, the law is yet to catch up.  When it comes to property, the law treats unmarried couples more like flatmates without addressing the unique nature of their family relationship.

We often find that when an unmarried couple separate, one of the parties is shocked to find for example, that despite making the major financial contribution to the purchase of a property, they have unwittingly purchased the home on the basis that they own the property in equal shares with their former partner, or that the legal title is in the name of one party alone and the other has no beneficial interest, despite having lived in the property for a number of years. 

There are different ways that property can be co-owned at the outset, which affect a person’s entitlement to share in the property in the event of a separation.  There are also a variety of ways that an interest can be acquired in property, if it is in the name of one person alone. The way that a property is purchased can also have dramatically different results in the event of one partner pre-deceasing the other.

The law in this area is complex and if a dispute does end up in court and the intentions of the parties have not been expressly worked out, the court is often left in the undesirable position of trawling through the parties’ financial records and paperwork to decide what the couple intended by reference to their conduct in relation to each other and the property.  This can lead to an unsatisfactory and uncertain outcome.

Cohabitation Agreements - What is involved?

It is for this reason that it is essential to sort out who owns what and what each person is responsible for from the outset. We can help you do this by providing you with clear advice about the different ways of owning property together and also by entering into a Cohabitation Agreement (sometimes called a Living Together Agreement), which states clearly who owns what and what financial interest each partner is intended to have in property.

A cohabitation agreement can also cover other assets including who owns cars, furniture, savings and investments.  Additionally it can set out each partner’s responsibility for mortgage and bills, living expenses and home maintenance. 

We have put together a useful guide 18 Tips To Consider When Setting Up Home With Your Partner a jargon free practical guide setting out some of the key issues to consider with your partner before living together, which can be downloaded free of charge.

Provided they have been entered into freely and fairly, cohabitation agreements are legally binding.  There are many internet based companies offering DIY agreements but such agreements may fall foul of the duress argument i.e. “he/she made me sign it”.  It is sensible and relatively inexpensive to have a cohabitation agreement drawn up by a solicitor, particularly when compared with the cost of going to court.  The other party will need to have the opportunity to seek independent legal advice before entering into the agreement.

It can be awkward to suggest the possibility of a cohabitation agreement to your partner.  However, having discussions before moving in together to clarify your intentions regarding money and property will provide you with a good grounding from the outset and help to clear up any differences of opinion before you move in together.

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Contact us to arrange a consultation with one of our family solicitors for straightforward, clear and practical advice to understand your legal position and decide whether a cohabitation agreement is right for you.

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