Cohabitation agreements – why now?

12th July 2013

Family life in the 21st century has changed from 50 years ago, when many people frowned upon the very idea of moving in with a partner before marriage. It is now commonplace for a couple to live together long before they tie the knot but while the trend has moved on, the law in this area has not.

The government has confirmed that reform of cohabitation laws, which give rights to unmarried couples, will not be considered in this Parliamentary term. So whilst many people assume that there is something called a ‘common law wife’, cohabitants actually have no special legal rights over each other. It is therefore important if you are unmarried, to get a Cohabitation Agreement drawn up because without it, any resolution of financial affairs should you separate, could be very messy!

Married couples have many rights to each other’s property but as a cohabiting couple, you have no rights to maintenance for yourself from your partner; no rights to property that is not in your name; no inheritance rights if your partner doesn’t make a will; no rights to your partner’s pension and if you’re an unmarried father, you have no automatic rights to parental responsibility, which means you have no say over the way your children are brought up!

A Cohabitation Agreement records your financial obligations towards each other and usually covers:

  • How you buy or rent a house and how will it be owned;
  • Who will pay the outgoings (e.g. electricity, water bills, etc.)?
  • How will home repairs and improvements be agreed?
  • How will those repairs and improvements be funded?
  • In what circumstances will the home be sold?
  • Will you have any joint accounts and how will the joint accounts be operated?
  • If you have any joint credit cards, how will the joint credit cards be operated?
  • What are your intentions regarding your property and assets after your death (you will also need to make a Will)?
  • Will you each enter into a Lasting Power of Attorney (Property and Affairs) or a Lasting Power of Attorney (Personal Welfare) so that you can deal with your partner’s assets or make decisions about their healthcare when they are not capable of doing so?
  • How will your possessions be divided?

This may seem like a long list and an unwelcome chore if you are happily embracing cohabitation. But beware, your good intentions towards each other now need a solid foundation, just in case life becomes rocky in the future! A Cohabiting Agreement is not a prenuptial agreement and if you later get married it will have no standing, but before then it should be welcomed by both partners as an opportunity to underpin your life together with a contractual commitment. It isn’t about a lack of trust but more about common sense!

Please contact us if you would like details of a suitably qualified solicitor who could help you.