Many couples choose to live together in unmarried long-term relationships. Generally speaking, unmarried couples have less rights than married couples when it comes to their home. It is therefore important, if possible, to set out what the parties’ intentions are from the beginning. It is a common misconception that long term living together means you are in a ‘common law marriage’; however, the truth is, it provides no legal rights to either of you. In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about cohabitation and your rights as an unmarried couple.

How can a couple set out their intentions before cohabiting?

There are a number of ways in which couples can seek to protect their assets at the outset of a cohabiting relationship.

In terms of property, if someone wishes to protect their interest within a property that they intend to purchase, a Declaration of Trust should be prepared.  Such documents are commonly used when one party contributes a significant sum towards the deposit, for example. This documentation can protect cohabitees from losing monies they invested in the home.

Many couples purchasing properties instruct solicitors that the property is to be held as Joint Tenants. This means that the property is owned jointly and equally, and if one person dies, the property automatically transfers to the other. A joint tenant agreement isn’t always suitable for all situation, particularly if one party has invested more into the property.  If a Declaration of Trust is to be prepared, the property should instead be registered as Tenants in Common, in unequal shares. This will set out in writing the exact shares that each party owns.  A Will should also be prepared to reflect the intention as to who the share of the property should pass to on death, as it will not be automatically transferred to the other partner.

A Cohabitation Agreement is a document that evidences the legal agreement reached between couples who have chosen to live together. This can set out the terms of cohabitation, for example, who is responsible for the mortgage payments and outgoings.  The agreement can also set out the intention in the event of separation, such as who shall remain in the property and how the sale proceeds should be divided etc. Many cohabiting couples don’t like the idea of having to set up a legal agreement to cover them in the event of separation, but it can be a very worthwhile option for both parties.

Whilst there is no absolute guarantee that the court will always uphold the terms of the cohabitation agreement, such agreement will demonstrate the clear intention of the parties.  A Cohabitation Agreement can also minimise the risk of one party applying to the court, as it is much more difficult to argue a case when there is clear evidence, as opposed to it just being one party’s word against the other.

What if I am now separating but we didn’t enter into a Cohabitation Agreement?

If there was not an agreement at the time of cohabitation, or one party has reneged on any verbal agreement, then there are still some avenues you can explore. We can assist you in reaching an agreement on separation and finding a solution that both parties can agree upon.  This agreement can then be incorporated into a Separation Agreement to limit the risk of future claims and protect you both in future.

To arrange to speak to one of our team of solicitors in relation to these issues, please contact us to arrange an appointment