Cohabitation agreements: better safe than sorry

two people on sofa with remote in hand

If you’re cohabiting with your partner, you and your family are in the fastest growing family type. Since 1996, the number of UK cohabiting couple families has more than doubled, from 1.5 million to 3.3 million.
You’re also in a far more vulnerable position than the 12.7 million married or civil partner couple families in the UK if your relationship breaks down. Despite what 1 in 4 people think, cohabitees in England and Wales do not have the same legal rights as married couples. While married couples have legal rights to maintenance and a share of assets such as property and pensions, cohabitees have no such automatic protection.

No such thing as a common law spouse

At the centre of this issue is the myth of the common law spouse. In law, there is no such thing. You are either married or in a civil partnership. Every other situation where two partners live together is cohabitation. It doesn’t matter how long you have been together, if you have a shared bank account, or have contributed to a mortgage in your partner’s name for years.

Limited legal protection for cohabiting couples with children

If you and your partner are not married and have children, the situation is just the same. That’s why many cohabiting couples who are unaware of their vulnerability, and then split experience real difficulties. Taking an ex-partner to court could involve legal battles for financial settlements, not to mention out of court acrimony about need to sort out child living arrangements. Proceedings for financial provision for a child can be costly and lengthy.

We offer a free 30 minute consultation for new clients on cohab agreements,

during which you can ask us any questions you may have.

What is a cohabitation agreement?

Just as those getting married can have a pre nuptial or post nuptial agreement, so can cohabitees. Sometimes referred to as a living together agreement, or even a “no nup”, a cohabitation agreement is a document that sets out what happens in the case of you splitting up.

Details might include how you would divide up:

  • Your home/property and its contents
  • Joint purchases such as a car
  • Joint monies, savings and investments
  • Joint debts
  • Other assets such as inherited items


It should also cover what each person brings to the relationship at the outset, to establish a ‘baseline’ for negotiation and agreement.


Cohabitation agreements and children

Most importantly, any cohabitation agreement should cover all matters concerning your children, such as how to support then and who they will live with. However, such an agreement will not overrule any pre-existing legal rights or requirements regarding children, such as the automatic financial responsibility for your natural child and the obligation to pay child maintenance for a minor child.


Do cohabitation agreements kill romance?

Couples may feel that asking their loved one to create such an agreement isn’t exactly romantic. However, it’s actually a very practical way to affirm what each partner brings, and what is a fair and reasonable way to manage your financial future together too.


Are cohabitation agreements legally binding?

The important aspect of any cohabitation agreement is that it is properly drawn up, with full disclosure and each partner taking independent legal advice. It should be created with the sole intent of it having legal force. It should be signed in the presence of witnesses, and you should sign the document of your own free will, that is, without coercion. If you then break up, a court will abide by the contract.


Take your time

Cohabitation agreements are just as involved and complex as pre-nups, and we always recommend couples take time to talk it through before coming to us. We can then draft an agreement using all the salient information, and you as a couple can amend anything you wish on that draft before signing a final version.


Online cohabitation agreement templates

It’s tempting to simply download a template agreement and guidance note pack from the web, but this is not advisable. As stated above, one of the key elements of a cohabitation agreement when presented in court is that both parties sought independent legal advice prior to signing and were clear on the intentions they expressed. Miss out that element, and the court may dismiss the entire agreement, however comprehensive it might be.


Cohabitation agreement or a will?

The simple answer is - both! One protects you in the event of your relationship breaking down, the other in the case of your partner dying.


Need a cohabitation agreement drawn up?

Call us here at LGFL Ltd. A legally binding cohabitation agreement created with our help and professional advice can ensure that you are definitely better safe than sorry.