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Cohabitation agreements: what you need to know

PUBLISHED: 15:52 01 March 2017 | UPDATED: 15:52 01 March 2017

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

BartekSzewczyk

Couples living together, but who are not married or in a civil partnership, are the fastest growing family type in the UK, with numbers expected to reach 3.8 million by 2031.

According to Resolution (an organisation of family lawyers) over 50% of the population believe that cohabiting couples have equivalent rights to married couples once they have lived together for a period of time (the myth of “common law marriage”). But this is not the case in England and Wales. People who live together never acquire the same rights and responsibilities no matter how long they are together and regardless of whether or not they have children.

Nevertheless if you own your own property, or are moving into a partner’s property, there are things you need to consider. It might seem unromantic at such a time, however thinking about them now should avoid, at best, disagreements and, at worst, legal proceedings if things do not work out between you.

Before your partner moves in, you need to think about who is going to pay what and also whether you intend such a payment to give your partner an interest in your property or is it simply to be akin to the rent your partner would pay if living elsewhere. This is important if you are to avoid a bitter dispute if the relationship breaks down – your then former partner perhaps claiming an interest in your home because of monies he/ she paid or because he/ she carried out works on the property.

So firstly, you need to have a candid discussion with your partner about what they will contribute and also whether you intend your partner to acquire an interest in your home. Having additional money might be nice but it doesn’t follow that that makes it fair for your partner to acquire an interest in your home. They might for example be paying less than they previously were in rent, and you could afford the mortgage repayments and other outgoings anyway without those additional monies.

You should then take legal advice. Each couple is different but there are a number of options, which a solicitor is likely to suggest:

• One is a simple and relatively inexpensive deed of waiver to record you and your partner’s agreement that, regardless of payments that he/ she makes or work undertaken they are not to acquire an interest in your property.

• However if you agree that they are to acquire an interest then a declaration of trust should be prepared, again to record what you both agree your respective interests should be or might become over time, subject to payments being made/ work undertaken.

• Another option is a cohabitation agreement. This is a more lengthier and is likely to be suggested if you want to record your agreement about matters over and above property ownership. It could deal with for instance who pays what bills; and if there are children child care arrangements and support. It might seem ridiculous but we have also been asked to include such things as who has control over the TV remote or who puts the bins out!

There is no need to feel uncomfortable about bringing up these matters with your partner. You both need clarity and certainty about your positions, and your partner should not be offended that you want to safeguard your ownership of your home. The options above will provide reassurance to you both if the relationship comes to an end or in the event of one of you dying.

You also need to remember that marriage does create rights and obligations so if or when that is on the cards you should consider a prenuptial agreement.

Remember that these types of agreement are not just for the wealthy. It is sensible to have this sense of security in relation to your home, regardless of its value and to avoid potential future conflict.

For further advice please contact Sue Andrews, partner in B P Collins’ family practice on 01753 889995 or email sue.andrews@bpcollins.co.uk

Follow us on Twitter @bpcollinslaw, Facebook or our website: www.bpcollins.co.uk/personal

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