What happens when you decide to separate?
Separating cohabitating couples will find themselves in a different situation compared to those who are married or who have drawn up a legal agreement. Contrary to popular belief, unmarried couples do not have the same rights as married couples, which means if they separate they can find themselves in a complicated legal ‘tug-of-war’.
Your legal rights will vary depending on the legal stance of your relationship. Anyone making the emotional commitment to living together rather than the legal agreement of marriage, will not receive the same entitlements as married couples. Unlike civil partners or spouses, whereby the Courts have wide powers to redistribute property irrespective of which whether it is owned by one or 2 of the spouses, there is currently no law that states that a partner (long term or short term) has a legal entitlement to get anything in the event of a breakup.
The importance of a cohabitation agreement
While a cohabitation agreement may not sound like a romantic proposal, it is an option for anyone who doesn’t want to walk down the aisle or make a legal commitment. Similar to a pre-nuptial agreement, a cohabitation agreement will come into play in the event of a partnership breaking down and works just like an insurance policy does. While you may not be planning to separate, an agreement will protect your rights and make sure that there is clarity on what happens to assets in the event you separate.
Many couples will eventually come to a point in their relationship when the time comes to choose which house they should live in. If you decide to move into your partner’s home with whom you are not married to, they will still legally own the house and its content in the event of a split. Even if you contribute to bills, paying for extensions or renovations you will probably not have any legal entitlement to the property. Even where you may have an entitlement to a share of the property, the cost of court proceedings may mean it is not worth pursuing.
What a cohabitation agreement does
This agreement will outline the obligations and rights of both people in the relationship and this can pertain to anything from the ownership of the property through to its contents.
Solicitor David Kirkman, who specialises in family law, comments that “cohabitation agreements are becoming more popular. If you want protection and certainty if you are to separate, a cohabitation agreement is a great investment”.
Therefore a cohabitation agreement is essential as it ensures that there is a legal plan in place is the best way to protect yourself from a lot of unnecessary legal turmoil. A cohabitation agreement should be written up while you are happy as a couple, just as a prenuptial agreement would be made between a bride and groom who are preparing to walk down the aisle.
In addition to this a cohabitation agreement can also be used to organise the day to day finances of the household while you live together, such as how much each partner contributes to rent, mortgage or bills. It can also indicate whether a life insurance policy can be taken out on one-another.
How is the agreement put together?
Cohabitation agreements are relatively easy to put together, and require only a short few steps. This agreement is legally binding as long is at is drawn up by a qualified legal representative and both parties have signed it using independent legal advice.
- Firstly, each member of the couple must decide who owns what and how their assets would be divided in the eventuality of a split
- Each partner should then decide exactly what they want from the agreement. For example; equal bill splits or one partner paying slightly more on one item such as a car to ensure sole ownership. This can be done together, or separately through each other’s legal representatives and then compromises agreed upon.
- Once this has happened, one partner pays their lawyer to draw up the agreement, and forward to the other partner who gets their legal representative to go through it.
- Finally, when both parties are satisfied with the agreement it is signed and witnessed by each partner.
- The document is now legally binding.
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