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The law around cohabitation agreements explained

Many people believe there is something called a ‘common law spouse’, but this is not true. In fact, two thirds of cohabiting couples wrongly believe 'common law marriage' exists, when dividing up finances after a split.

However, it is possible to draw up something called a cohabitation agreement that outlines certain rules, such as how things like assets and finances will be divided in the event of a separation.

Married couples automatically have rights to their spouse’s property, finances, pension plans and more. However, cohabiting couples do not. Also, if you’re an unmarried father, you have no automatic rights to parental responsibility. This means you may not have any say in the care and support of your children.

If you’re not married to your partner, a cohabitation agreement will protect your interests in the event that you split up. The experts at First4Lawyers can give you both peace of mind.

What is a cohabitation agreement?

Should your relationship end, a cohabitation agreement is a document that sets out how you will support your children over and above any legal duty to provide care and support, and define how you will split any bank accounts, pension schemes and debts, as well as joint purchases (such as cars).

You may also wish to describe who owns which assets while you live together, and the procedures around joint finances, such as how much each of you pays towards the mortgage, rent, or bills.

Is a cohabitation agreement legally binding?

For your cohabitation agreement to have a strong basis in UK law, you must intend to give legal force to its terms. You may wish to state this intention in the agreement. The document must also be ‘executed as a deed’ and signed in the presence of witnesses.

However, you must keep in mind that the court may not uphold your cohabitation agreement if it deems its terms to be unfair.

To increase the chance that the law will uphold the document, it’s advisable that both you and your partner seek independent legal advice. You must also be open about your financial status before you enter into the agreement.

How should I draw up the agreement?

You should do this with the help of a family solicitor, such as those First4Lawyers work with.

Beforehand you should agree on who owns what, and how you wish to split your assets in the event that your relationship ends. You or your partner should then hire a lawyer to draw up the agreement before providing a copy to the other partner.

If you are both happy with the terms of the deed, each of you should then sign it in the presence of witnesses.

Will we need to revise our cohabitation agreement?

As time goes on, things may happen that could make your initial cohabitation agreement unfair. As a result, you may wish to redraft it. Reasons could include:

  • The birth of a child
  • Illness
  • Redundancy
  • Changes in financial status (e.g. switching job, inheritance)

It is also important to note the courts will not treat your cohabitation agreement as a pre-nuptial contract in the event you marry your partner.

I want to draw up a cohabitation agreement – what should I do?

To ensure your current cohabitation agreement is legally binding, or if you want help drawing one up, we advise you seek advice from an expert family lawyer as soon as possible.

Here at First4Lawyers, our advisors will look at the details of your situation and use that to pair you with the best possible solicitor. That expert can then advise you on the cohabitation issues you should consider when writing one, where you stand legally, and how the court may view the terms of your current agreement.

Our expert family solicitors are happy to hear from you. Get in touch with First4Lawyers.

How to guides

Learn more about this area of law and what you need to know:

A guide to cohabitation agreements

In this guide, we'll help you understand cohabitation agreements

read more

How to write a cohabitation agreement

In this guide, we’ll help you understand how to write a cohabitation agreement

Read more

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