“Society has changed – it’s time for our laws to catch up.”

Resolution Chair, Nigel Shepherd, says the law on cohabitation needs to change, as it “is falling desperately behind the times”.

A poll of over 2,000 British adults, conducted by ComRes and commissioned by Resolution, to mark Cohabitation Awareness Week, has highlighted the misunderstanding of many cohabiting couples of the law in this area.

Family Law Week reports that the poll found that:

  • A quarter of Britons (27 per cent) wrongly believe that, after living together for more than two years, unmarried couples have similar rights to married couples if they break up
  • Nearly two in five British adults (37 per cent) wrongly think it is true that unmarried couples who have lived together for more than two years benefit from what is known as a ‘common law marriage’
  • More than four in five Britons (84 per cent) agree that the government should take steps to ensure unmarried cohabitating couples are aware they do not have the same legal protection as married couples if they separate, or if one of them should die.

The Office for National Statistics published new figures last month which showed that the cohabiting couple is the second largest family type and the fastest growing, having more than doubled from 1.5 million families in 1996 to 3.3 million families in 2017.

At Jones Nickolds, we regularly advise clients who are cohabiting about their rights and responsibilities towards each other. We can also draft cohabitation agreements.

What is a cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation agreement records arrangements between two or more people who have agreed to live together, as a couple or otherwise. It records each party’s rights and responsibilities in relation to the property where they live or intend to live together, financial arrangements between them, both during and following cohabitation and the arrangements to be made if they decide that they no longer want to live together.

A cohabitation agreement can also be used to record ownership of personal property (including items such as cars, furniture or art) which may be used or enjoyed by both cohabitees when they live together, but are to be retained by the owner if cohabitation ends.

Who can enter into a cohabitation agreement?

Cohabitation agreements are frequently entered into by cohabitees who want to regulate their financial and living arrangements both during cohabitation and if cohabitation comes to an end. They are usually entered into by couples who have decided not to marry but have decided to live together.

Avoids the cost and uncertainty of litigation

Cohabitation agreements are a helpful way of recording a cohabiting couple’s intentions about the legal and beneficial ownership of their real and personal property. Former cohabitees can often spend vast sums of money on litigation to determine their respective shares in property which they either co-own or which is owned solely by one of them but which the non-owning party may have made financial or domestic contributions towards.

Having a cohabitation agreement in place and discussing each person’s rights and obligations in relation to the property at the outset of living together can therefore assist to avoid the acrimony, cost and uncertainty of litigation after cohabitation ends.

Individual autonomy

Entering into a cohabitation agreement gives cohabitees the flexibility and freedom to organise their financial affairs as they wish, both during and following cohabitation. Current legislation does not entitle a cohabitee to make a claim for maintenance or to claim a share of their former partner’s assets as of right, if the relationship ends.

If you have any queries about this article please contact jonesnickolds on 0203 405 2300 or contact@jonesnickolds.co.uk