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This article was published on March 18th, 2021
Things are going well. A time of love and romance. Will your boyfriend or girlfriend whisper those four magic words that you’ve been longing to hear…’let’s move in together!’? If they do you should consider a cohabitation agreement.
It’s becoming increasingly common for couples to live together before they marry and (sorry to be so unromantic) it is also statistically more common for couples who live together to break up than for married couples to divorce.
It is often the last thing that people think about at this time, or at least the last thing people want to talk about, but if you really are thinking of moving in together then you must think about what might happen if you decide to break up.
This is because the law concerning couples who live together, or cohabit as it is known legally, is much less straightforward than the law governing married couples. As a result, partners of many years can break up and find that they do not have anything like the financial security they thought they had.
It is a common misconception that, after living together for a while, a couple become common-law husband and wife with much the same rights as legally married couples. This is just not the case.
An all-too-frequent situation is where one of the couple moves into the other’s property and begins to contribute to the outgoings such as the gas, electricity and even the mortgage. Over many years they may feel that they have been contributing to the property and so are entitled to a share in the house but this is not necessarily the case – in the eyes of the law they may be entitled to very little.
Don’t be mistaken, the time to talk about financial arrangements is before you move in together. It will certainly make any break up less painful and, possibly, reduce the risk of it happening in the first place. You’re probably getting along quite well so it should be relatively easy to talk about awkward subjects like money and ownership of property.
The thing you need to be aiming towards is a properly drafted Cohabitation Agreement. This is a legal agreement in which both parties set out what they will contribute and what they will be entitled to.
However, before you can draw up such an agreement, you first have to agree. Who is going to pay for what? Who will own the property? What about possessions? Will each own the furniture and stuff they bring to the relationship? What about the furniture you buy together? What about the car? And as the relationship goes along will things change? Will the equity in the property be shared if you stay together for the next, say, five years?
There is also the question of children, an issue which is increasingly common and equally complicated where couples are unmarried whether the children are theirs or from previous relationships. Will the man take on formal parental responsibility or not? And what are the implications?
Finally (and now we’re really planning for the worst-case scenario) you should both draw up wills which make sure that, in the event of one of you dying, that the other isn’t left in the lurch. Picture your grieving girlfriend being thrown out of your flat by your horrible sister who, as your closest relative, inherited your half of the flat – all for the sake of a few quid and a bit of planning.
So, have a good old talk about things and write down what you want to agree. Then you need to find separate solicitors (one solicitor cannot advise both of you, this would be a conflict of interests) and have one draft a formal cohabitation agreement for both of you to sign. Courts are not necessarily bound by such agreements (circumstances can change to make them less relevant) but, so long as they are properly drafted and you have been properly advised, it is rare for them not to work.
Now, with a proper cohabitation agreement, you can stop worrying about who has what and get on with enjoying each other’s company!
If you’d like to learn more about cohabitation agreements or would like to instruct one of our expert family law solicitors to draw up you cohabitation agreement, please contact us today by calling us for free on 0800 1979 345 or complete our online enquiry form y clicking here, and a member of our team will be in touch.