ohabitation agreements are made when a couple are not married but have chosen to live together. These agreements can offer legal protection, not unlike that of a married couple, with regards to money, property and also issues around children. These agreements are not limited to the time that you live together but can also set up an agreement for what happens if you were to split up.
Cohabitation agreements can be useful tools but it is imperative that you seek specialist legal advice before entering one.
A cohabitation agreement can be entered into at any time during a relationship –they are not restricted to when couples first get together. Furthermore, the agreement can be ‘varied’ (changed) at any stage, perhaps due to a change in circumstances (for example having a child), but for the sake of clarity any changes should be recorded in writing, as opposed to being made verbally between the parties. Legal advice should always be sought on the implications of any proposed changes to the agreement.
What are the benefits of having a cohabitation agreement?
Having a cohabitation agreement in place will provide clarity and certainty should the relationship break down irretrievably. Unlike with divorce proceedings, any ownership, rights of occupation or other terms set out in the agreement cannot be revised by a court if the relationship ends. This means that the terms need to be agreed by both parties at the outset. The benefit of this is clarity for both parties as to what money, property or ownership will be theirs and the certainty that this cannot change and leave either party dissatisfied.
These agreements can be reviewed if both parties agree, for example, if a child is born, to make arrangements more suitable to major lifestyle changes. A cohabitation agreement can be made at any point of cohabitation, as long as both parties agree to it. However, having an agreement in place at the start of a cohabiting relationship can help to avoid any hostility and often long and expensive legal arguments should a separation occur without such an agreement.
What legal status does a common law spouse have?
A ‘common law spouse’ has no special legal status. You are either married (or in a civil partnership) or not. The situation used to be somewhat different in Scotland but isn’t any longer (though cohabiting couples do have some basic rights if their partnership ends).
If a relationship breaks down, being a ‘common law’ wife or husband does not give you the right to claim against your ex-partner for maintenance or a share of their assets. However, it may be possible for a parent to make a claim on behalf of a child they continue to look after.
Can we use an informal cohabitation agreement or does it have to be a legal document?
An informal cohabitation agreement will almost certainly not be legally enforceable. Some aspects may also need to be supported by legal documentation: for example, to ensure that your partner inherits in the event of your death.
More broadly, preparing a formal agreement provides a useful framework for considering all the areas that need to be addressed.
Find out more
Professional advice from a specialist family lawyer should be sought in relation to the drafting of any agreement as it is imperative that the document contains certain information and that certain processes and procedures are followed. It is important that the agreement be drafted in a way that the intentions of the parties are clear and that there is no ambiguity, as unclear or obscure terms may cause problems enforcing the agreement.
Premier Direct Law have specialist family lawyers on hand to provide you with the best cohabitation agreement, reflecting your circumstances.