It is now increasingly common that people live together as a couple without marrying or forming a civil partnership but what if you want to set a ‘framework’ to your living arrangements but don’t want to legally formalise your relationship?
We, at Levy & Co. Solicitors, are able to assist you in having a Cohabitation Agreement drawn up, to set down some practical guidelines for the relationship between you and your partner. Thinking these things through early on should make things much clearer and (hopefully) less painful in the event of a break up.
It is still unclear how Courts will deal with a dispute arising from a Cohabitation Agreement but if you are thinking about entering into a Cohabitation Agreement, you will need to consider: –
1. The purpose of your agreement: do you intend the agreement to be legally binding; or merely a statement of your expectations?
2. The length of time the agreement will cover.
3. Arrangements for children – for example, arrangements for maintenance if you should separate; agreement on having contact.
4. How you will treat property owned by either of you at the beginning of the relationship?
5. Will property acquired during cohabitation be shared equally or in proportions set out in the agreement?
6. How will you deal with debts you have at the beginning of the relationship? It is advisable to make a statement of what each currently owes.
7. Inheritance and Wills – what, if anything, will you leave to each other (although it is still important that you both make a Will)?
8. How you will resolve disagreements – for example, will you self-refer to mediation?
Unfortunately, many cohabitants don’t realise the pitfalls of cohabitation as opposed to marriage, until the relationship breaks down. The main problem is that there isn’t a legal framework to protect or assist separating cohabitants. Cohabiting couples have virtually no protection when a relationship breaks down, as the law affecting them at the end of their relationship does not take into account their relationship and does not try to achieve a fair outcome between former cohabitants.
There is no legal provision for the payment of maintenance, even on a limited basis, to enable a person to get back on his or her financial feet after a relationship breakdown. Therefore, a mother who has given up work to look after a child from the relationship or put a career on hold, cannot apply for assistance while the children are very young or until she re-trains. While maintenance claims for children can be made under separate laws, payments will end when the children leave home.
People often believe that there is some protection in law on the basis that they are a “common law spouse.” The fact is, however, that common-law marriage has not existed in Britain since 1753. Therefore, nobody acquires rights over somebody else’s property simply by living with them. When trying to determine the ownership of a property, the Courts have no power to override the strict legal ownership of property and divide it as they may do on divorce. The Courts may only make orders based on a determination of shares which have been acquired in the property in circumstances where the legal rules of trusts or proprietary estoppel apply. These rules are technical but essentially, the party who has no legal interest in the home may be found to have a beneficial (or equitable) interest in the property. The apparent intentions of the parties may be relevant in deciding the proportion of the property owned by each party. The length of time the partners have cohabited is not necessarily relevant.
Please contact us today if you would like to further information regarding cohabitation and cohabitation agreements.