According to a briefing paper published by the House of Commons Library, the number of couples choosing to cohabit (live together) in a stable intimate relationship without getting married or entering a civil partnership – informally referred to as ‘common law marriage’ – increased by 144% between 1996 and 2021.

Meanwhile, it was predicted that almost half of people in England and Wales in 2019 believed that unmarried couples who live together enjoy the same rights as couples who are legally married.

When cohabiting with a partner, the laws that protect married couples regarding finances, property and children do not apply. Therefore, writing and implementing the appropriate legal documentation is essential to ensure that you are protected.

In this article, Langley Wellington’s professional and experienced family law team considers some key frequently asked questions surrounding cohabitation, including how you can protect your partner and your family.

What is a cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is a legal document created, signed and agreed upon by unmarried couples who are living together. Although all agreements will differ depending on the individual circumstances of the couple, in general, a typical agreement will cover arrangements for finance, property and children should the couple split up or either of them become ill or die.

Ideally, the cohabitation agreement should be created and implemented before the couple moves in together; however, it can be set up at any time.

To ensure the document is legally binding, the cohabitation agreement should be created and implemented with the assistance of a specialist family lawyer.

What is the purpose of a cohabitation agreement?

Many people believe that unmarried couples, particularly those with children or who have lived together for a long time, have the same rights as married couples regarding finances and aspects involving children. However, this is not the case. Click here to take a look at the rights that cohabiting couples have.

Despite the rights listed in the link above, there are still many considerations that should be made through the medium of a cohabitation agreement. When used in conjunction with a Will, a cohabitation agreement can help to ensure that if one party in the couple becomes ill, dies, or they separate, they will be protected.

As mentioned above, cohabitation agreements will differ slightly on a case-by-case basis. However, in general, the following aspects are covered:

  • How assets will be shared.
  • How pensions will be shared.
  • Next of kin rights in a medical emergency.
  • How bills are paid for and other responsibilities are divided.

What happens to the cohabitation agreement if the couple gets married?

Circumstances may change, and a cohabiting couple may decide to get married. In this case, there are options for the couple involved to consider:

  • Adapt the cohabitation agreement to make contingencies for the potential eventuality that the marriage should break down.
  • Allow the cohabitation agreement to end and instead implement an alternative, such as a pre or post-nuptial agreement. In this case, remembering that the couple now has increased rights as a married couple is vital.

In all cases, particularly where a couple wants to end their cohabitation agreement, seeking legal advice is essential to ensure that both parties remain protected.

Read more in this article – What are cohabitation agreements?

Solicitor for Cohabitation Agreements Gloucestershire

Although the casual nature of living with a partner without being in a marriage or civil partnership is increasingly appealing to many couples, doing so can be risky, as one partner may be left without the ability to make decisions for or have access to their partner’s belongings should the worst happen.

At Langley Wellington, we are proud of our highly experienced and knowledgeable family law team based in Gloucestershire, with offices in Cheltenham and Gloucester. If you are thinking of moving in with your other half and you are considering setting up a cohabitation agreement, please get in touch with our family law team today on 01452 521 286 (Gloucester) or 01242 269 998 (Cheltenham). Alternatively, please email or fill in our contact form.

In addition to a cohabitation agreement, it is wise to ensure that your Will accurately reflects your living situation. By updating your Will when you create your cohabitation agreement, you can be safe in the knowledge that you have another layer of protection in place to ensure that your estate is distributed and acted upon according to your wishes when you die. To speak to a reliable and highly experienced private client solicitor today, please get in touch with us.

This blog is not intended to be taken as advice or acted upon. If you are seeking legal advice, please get in touch with our team of solicitors.