You can prepare for this eventuality by having a cohabitation agreement drawn up by a family lawyer who understands the complexities of such agreements and how they should be written to protect your interests.
The myth of the ‘common law spouse’
The number of unmarried couples living together has doubled since the mid 1990s to nearly 3 million. However, many of these couples, who often refer to themselves as ‘common law spouses’, don’t realise that they don’t have the same rights as married couples when they separate.
Married couples have a claim on all matrimonial assets when they divorce. However, if you cohabit, you are not protected by the same laws as married couples and have no automatic claim on your partner’s assets unless you can say that you have an interest in them. This can cause untold distress when couples have been living together for some time and believe that they ‘own half of everything’.
What can be included in cohabitation agreements?
A cohabitation agreement can address issues relating to:
- future maintenance for you and other financial issues
- ownership of property
- the share of the bills you and your partner will pay
- payment of debts
- ownership of other assets such as cars, furniture etc.
Why should I have a cohabitation agreement?
A cohabitation agreement can be enforced by the courts as long as certain criteria are met, such as both parties having obtained independent legal advice. The agreement shows your clear intentions at the time you entered into it.
The agreement also ensures that you both have a clear understanding of your financial commitments and responsibilities whilst you live together and essentially means that if you do separate you both know where you stand.
Does a cohabitation agreement help the economically weaker partner?
The agreement can be particularly useful in terms of ownership of assets when there is an economically weaker partner. For example, if the property you live in is owned in your partner’s sole name and you stay at home to look after the children whilst your partner works, your interest in the property can be recognised in the agreement in acknowledgement of the contributions you have made towards looking after the family and home.
If you own a property with your partner as joint tenants, this is usually divided 50/50 on separation regardless of whether you have contributed more or less to its purchase, unless you make a written agreement to declare different shares or interest.
How much does a cohabitation agreement cost?
The cost depends on how complex your living arrangements are and how much detail you want to include in your cohabitation agreement. We will advise the cost once we know the nature and extent of your intended provisions. In some cases, we can agree a fixed fee with you.
One thing’s for sure, it will be a lot cheaper than battling out later disputes in court without one!
Do I need to make a will?
Yes, if you want your partner to inherit any of your estate. Unlike married couples, cohabiting couples do not automatically inherit if a partner dies. You can find out more about making a will on our website.
How can Graysons help?
Our family law experts have written many cohabitation agreements that have been used to protect the interests of unmarried couples when they have separated. Contact our family law team now to make an appointment to discuss your individual requirements.