Living together without a contract
A cohabitation agreement is a form of legal agreement reached between a couple who have chosen to live together (whether they are heterosexual or homosexual). In some ways, such a couple may be treated like a married couple, such as when applying for a mortgage or working out child support. However, in some other areas, such as property rights, pensions and inheritance, they are treated differently.
A cohabitation agreement contains documentation for a couple who want to live together in order to protect themselves from unnecessary cost and litigation should their cohabitation break down. They can clearly regulate their property rights and what arrangements might be made for mutual financial support, dealing with debt, caring for children, etc. The agreement also, much like a prenuptial agreement, allows the individuals concerned to determine in advance who will keep specific assets and what will happen to assets that have been purchased jointly if they separate. This agreement is intended to bind both parties.
A sharp increase in the number of cohabiting couples over the past 15 years or so has led to a rise in complex and often costly legal disputes when they split up. Despite what many believe – and around one in four people living together think they have the same legal protection as married couples, according to research by the Co-op – there is no status in English law as a common-law spouse or partner. The number of unmarried couples has doubled since the mid 1990s to nearly three million, while the number of children living with unmarried parents has risen from 0.9 million in 1996 to 1.8 million in 2012. In addition, there are an estimated 6,000 same-sex couples, not in a civil partnership, who have children.
Cohabiting couples have no such rights, regardless of the number of years they have been together and whether they have children.
How to protect yourselves legally
Make wills. If you die intestate – without leaving a will – there are strict rules about who gets what, and nowhere in English law are cohabiting partners recognised. If you are not married or in a civil partnership, the only way you can make sure your partner will inherit if you die is to make a will.
Sign a cohabitation agreement or contracts if you plan to live together or are already living together. Cohabitation agreements typically will deal with things like how property and debt will be divided or whether spousal support will be paid if the relationship ends. Cohabitation agreements can also deal with things during the relationship, like how the housework is distributed and how the household expenses are paid. There is no legal requirement for people to sign a cohabitation agreement when they decide to live together.
Unlike marriage, which is regulated by specific laws that protect the individuals in the relationship, cohabitation offers no such comfort. Legally Married will guide and advise you and your partner on how to go about the legal requirements for your cohabitation agreement.