What you need to know about cohabitation

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10 January 2020

What you need to know about cohabitation

It's 2019, and the times have certainly changed. Lifestyles have changed, and with these changes, cohabitation is now a prevalent option for many modern-day, busy families. 

Currently, there are over 3 million cohabiting families in the UK, and these numbers are continuing to rise at a steady pace. 

Buying your first home doesn’t now come after you’re wed, but instead, life comes a little more fast-paced and in any order that a couple decides is best for them. 

However, for all cohabitation is growing in popularity, it’s important to understand your rights thoroughly.  To speak to a family law solicitor who can answer all of your “what if” questions and find out if a Cohabitation Agreement would work for you. 

What is Cohabitation? 

Formally, cohabitation means living with someone who you’re not married to. Of course, it is different from living with your flatmates, as cohabiting couples are just that – a couple. Couples who are in a long-term relationship who live exactly like a married couple. 

For all cohabiting offers slightly more freedom than marriage, it also brings with it some confusion when it comes to legal rights – both couple and individual. 

Knowing your rights 

Very few couples who live together, unmarried, know their rights, and it’s not a pleasant experience when someone’s relationship ends after many years to then find out that they also lack any future financial security. 

Cohabitation does mean you have fewer rights than you do if you were married, and if the relationship does break down, you could face real problems if your name isn’t on the property. 

Just because you have lived there for a long time does not give you any automatic rights to the property or its value if it has to be sold. 

Also, the worst cases can be if one partner has given up their career and income to raise their family, only to find out that if the worst did happen and the couple separate, they have no form of financial support, left with no savings or entitlement to pensions, etc. 

Cohabitation, in the case of separation or even death, can be complicated. For example, if one partner passes, the surviving partner is not protected as a Common-Law Partner, as currently in UK law there is no such thing as Common Law Marriage so all assets will not automatically be passed across. 

How to avoid complications 

No, the answer is not simply to get married! But instead, look further into your cohabiting arrangements. 

Putting in place things such as wills. Putting wills in place, naming specifically your partner in your will and making sure that assets are in joint names, will avoid any complications if the worst were to happen. 

With inheritance disputes often taking years to resolve, it’s essential to protect your family and loved ones from the start. Ensuring that your estate goes to whom you want it to go to without any complications. 

As a cohabiting couple, if you don’t have a will in place, then your children could inherit your estate, or if you don’t have any children, it could pass to parents and siblings. Ultimately, there are no provisions for cohabiting couples or stepchildren, and hence they may receive nothing from your estate without it clearly being stated in a will. 

Of course, we understand that no one can predict the future; however, if you are considering cohabitation, then it’s vital to plan ahead. Making sure you have all your “what if” questions answered will undoubtedly help put your mind at rest in the long run. 

Communication is key. 

Having frank, open, and honest conversations as well as planning your finances before you move in together is vital. Talking about who will own the home, how are contributions to be made? What happens if the relationship ends? Will financial support be offered? Could one partner have the option to buy the others share in the property if the separation was to happen? Etc. 

Good family solicitors in Leeds, like JWP Solicitors, will be able to support you with these issues and any others that need to be more formally recognised, helping to form a Cohabitation Agreement. An agreement where both parties can agree and sign on the terms that they have spoken about. 

Working out a Cohabitation Agreement does sound dramatic, but it also stops a lot of arguments from unfolding. 

This agreement by no means creates new legal rights; however, it is a document that is recognised and can be enforced by the courts. 

Cohabitation Agreements, however, do state that pensions can’t be shared in the event of separation and the court does not have the power to create a fair outcome if one party departs from its terms. 

Disputes between unmarried couples can be costly, and risky business, and the law in such cases can be extremely complicated. 

The best approach is to take proper legal advice from the start and know from the very beginning what you are getting into. 

Gareth Long