Cohabitation Agreements - Protection for Unmarried Couples

Thinking of living together? Jenniffer Brunt, Principal and Head of Family Law at Lees Solicitors, discusses the steps you can take to avoid costly legal battles in the future by protecting yourself in the present.

Jenniffer Brunt, , Head of the Family Law Department

Congratulations! You have met the right person and decided now is the time to move in together. However, before you do, there are certain matters you need to think about. No-one likes to think what would happen if things go wrong in the future when they think they’ve met their life partner, but you have to protect yourself just in case the worst happens.

One of the most common myths in English law is that there is ‘common law marriage’. Common law marriage, also known as informal marriage, is a marriage that is considered valid by both partners, but has not been formally recorded with a state or religious registry. This simply does not exist and has not since it was abolished in 1753!

The Law Commission has proposed giving additional rights to unmarried or cohabiting couples, but a revision of the law appears to be many years away. At the moment, cohabitees continue to have few rights. In cases where a marriage or civil partnership breaks down or one partner dies, the rights of the other partner are clear. But when the relationship of a couple who have been living together ends or one of them dies, the differences between a legally-recognised partnership and an “unofficial” one is striking.

Cases involved in determining who gets what from the property or properties can be costly and be very time consuming, not to mention the emotional toll on the parties. On the death of an unmarried partner, not only do the intestacy laws make no provision for the surviving partner to inherit from the estate of their partner, but also the surviving partner does not benefit from the exemption from Inheritance Tax that would apply if the deceased’s estate passed to a spouse or civil partner. To try and claim anything at all is very difficult for the surviving partner.

Please do not think that you are being forced into entering into a Marriage or Civil Partnership. There is an easy and inexpensive solution – enter into a Cohabitation Agreement. This is a contract, between two people who live together, which sets out their agreement on the division of their combined assets. This is essential for people who live together but are without the protection afforded by marriage or civil partnership. The agreement states ‘who owns what’ and is not only important if the relationship ends, but also if one partner passes away.

Once the agreement is drawn up and signed by both parties, it can be put away, hopefully to never be considered again. But if the unfortunate does happen, then the agreement will help to prevent long and costly legal battles in the future.

Seeking legal advice from Lees Solicitors
At Lees Solicitors, our Family Team are experts in preparing Cohabitation Agreements and we deal with these in a professional and dignified manner to help you on your way to the joys of living together. If you have any questions about cohabiting agreements, our Family Team are here to help. Please contact us on 0151 647 9381 for a confidential discussion.

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