The concept of a ‘common law spouse’ is not recognised under English Law. This means that often people mistakenly believe that the law offers cohabitating couples protection, especially when they have been in a relationship for a number of years. However, the law treats married couples and cohabiting couples differently. It is important for cohabiting couples to understand the difference and, when starting a new relationship, to understand how to protect yourself. This week we will be exploring topics relating to cohabitation and dispelling a few myths surrounding common law marriage.
Today’s article is by Associate Solicitor Victoria Strode, and explains all you need to know about cohabitation agreements.
What is a cohabitation agreement?
These agreements are for couples who are not married but live together and record what should happen in the event their relationship comes to an end.
Why are they important?
The law treats cohabiting couples very differently to married couples when the relationship ends. Regardless of how long you have lived together, the law at present does not provide cohabiting couples with any legal obligations towards each other arising from their shared life together. Despite many pre-conceptions the law does not recognise ‘the common law spouse’.
So unlike married couples, living in a property which legally belongs to your partner is not enough to claim a share in that property should the relationship end.
Cohabitation agreements, whilst not strictly binding show your clear written intention of what should happen if the relationship was to end. This can offer both re-assurance and protection to both parties and as a result the risk of costly court proceedings can be reduced. If an application is made the agreement is likely to be persuasive.
What do they cover?
These agreements are bespoke and as such can contain as much information and detail as you wish, for example:-
- The family home – what contributions were made, do you own the property equally, who will pay mortgage payments/bills, if improvements are made will there be a change in how you own the property and if you separate can one party buy the other out.
- Children – financial support to include child maintenance and education costs.
- Financial support post-separation – what if any maintenance payments should be made for your partner and how long should these continue.
- Bank accounts, liabilities, cars, personal possessions & contents – how should these be divided if you separate.
If you are in a cohabiting relationship, or are thinking about cohabiting and would like any further information or advice then please contact a member of our family team on 0800 5335349 who will be happy to assist.