In March 2020 the UK’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer suggested that couples should ‘test the strength of their relationship’ and consider moving in together. With many couples accelerating their plans to cohabit rather than face lockdown isolation, it is important to understand the legal implications of cohabitation.

The myth of the ‘common law spouse’ remains rife. Cohabiting couples do not share the same legal rights and protections as married couples. Whereas married couples have financial protection and may rely on statute to support them in their claims for sharing of income, capital, property and pensions in the event of relationship breakdown, separation and divorce, there is no similar protection for unmarried couples. This is regardless of the length of time couples have been together, or the rights and opportunities they may have given up in order to cohabit. In short, there is no right to share income, even if you have given up your employment to support your partner in his wealth creation, or to care for your family. You have no automatic right to share your partner’s pension provision, even if you have sacrificed your own pension provision to support your partner. You have no automatic entitlement in relation to property. You may have moved into your partner’s home but in the event of relationship breakdown, you may not be able to remain there. The situation is stark.

So, what is the solution?

We would advise all cohabiting couples to enter into a detailed Cohabitation Agreement or Living Together Agreement in advance of moving in together. Just as few would consider accepting an offer of employment without sight of an employment contract, or entering into a business partnership without time to scrutinise the Partnership Agreement, cohabiting couples should take time and invest in their relationship by understanding and agreeing their respective rights and responsibilities towards each other in anticipation of cohabiting. A properly drawn Cohabitation Agreement / Living Together Agreement, can help clarify and regulate your rights and responsibilities towards each other, and prevent any nasty surprises later. A binding contract entered into freely between two individuals, can provide you with a degree of protection, even if currently statute falls short of doing so.

For more information please contact our Family Team.

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