Statistics show that the number of couples choosing to live together without getting married or entering into a civil partnership increased by 144% between 1996 and 2021 with almost 4 million couples understood to be cohabiting as of 2022.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as common law marriage, regardless of how long two people have been in a relationship and/or living together. As such, cohabiting couples do not have the same financial claims as married couples or civil partners.
Whilst the law dealing with disputes between unmarried cohabitees can in some cases, be complicated and further advice should always be taken where there are uncertainties, steps can be taken to provide clarity from the outset and in most cases, prevent costly and acrimonious litigation in the event of the breakdown of a relationship.
What is a Cohabitation Agreement?
A Cohabitation Agreement is a legal document which offers unmarried couples the opportunity to set out and agree matters in relation to property, assets (whether owned jointly or individually) liabilities and caring for children.
The Agreement can be as comprehensive as it needs to be. It can even outline the parties’ intentions in relation to what happens to pets in the event of a separation!
Most importantly, where drafted and executed properly as a deed, Cohabitation Agreements are legally binding and absent any credible reason why a party should not be held to the terms of the Agreement, they are almost always upheld by a Court. They therefore offer certainty and peace of mind, much like an insurance policy.
Cohabitation Agreements can also be modified or updated as many times as required throughout the subsistence of the relationship whilst the parties are unmarried cohabitees, perhaps on the occurrence of a major life change (e.g. on the birth of a child or the acquisition of a new property) and they should therefore be kept under review, periodically to ensure that they are up to date.
When should I enter into a Cohabitation Agreement?
Whilst it is preferable to prepare a Cohabitation Agreement before cohabitation commences, a Cohabitation Agreement can be made at any time. You should therefore speak to a solicitor if you are presently in a cohabiting relationship but do not have a formal Agreement drawn up, particularly if you are not the legal owner of the property in which you live and/or you have children with your partner.
Who are Cohabitation Agreements for?
It is also important to emphasise that Cohabitation Agreements are not restricted solely to those who are romantically involved and should therefore be considered in circumstances where a property is intended to be purchased or already owned with friends, relatives, even in certain circumstances, for investment purposes.
Does a Cohabitation Agreement continue to bind parties if they later decide to get married?
No. A Cohabitation Agreement will no longer be binding on the cohabitees from the date they marry. That said, the Agreement can be converted into either a pre or post nuptial Agreement either in anticipation of marriage or after the marriage has taken place and further advice should be sought on the legal status of such agreements.
If you would like to discuss Cohabitation Agreements with us or update an existing Agreement, please do not hesitate to contact the Family Department.