When you are moving in with your partner, the last thing you want to think about is the possibility of breaking up. However, as a cohabiting couple, you do not have the same legal protections as married partners or civil partners. Safeguarding your financial interests now could save you significant stress and heart-break later on.
There is a special type of contract that unmarried couples can make to define who owns what in the relationship and to provide financial protection in case you break up in the future. This type of contract is called a cohabitation agreement or living together agreement.
Our specialist family law solicitors are here to provide friendly, practical advice about entering into a cohabitation agreement with your partner. We can help you negotiate the terms with your partner, minimise any risk of dispute throughout the process, and draft the agreement on your behalf.
We have particular experience advising High Net Worth individuals and those with complex finances, such as businesses, investment portfolios or overseas property. We can also provide detailed advice about whether there are any other areas where you could benefit from legal advice, such as making a Will or entering into a Declaration of Trust to set out how you co-own your home.
Why choose Tanners for advice about cohabitation agreements?
We have decades of experience handling family law issues on behalf of individuals across the Cotswolds, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and throughout the UK, including London.
Cohabitation agreements have become increasingly popular in recent years as more people choose to live together before marriage or civil partnership. We have been advising on this area of law since these agreements were just starting to gain popularity so we know exactly what works and how best to protect your interests.
You can trust us to provide a practical but personal service. You will benefit from the experience and expertise of Partner, David Milburn, who has over 20 years’ experience specialising in Family Law. David is described by another leading client guide, the Legal 500 as:
“A highly astute divorce lawyer who takes charge of cases and ensures that they are kept moving with purpose, ultimately delivering very satisfying conclusions.”
"Meg Moss is absolutely excellent. She is extremely professional, always up to date, and knows cases inside out."
Our other highly rated solicitor is Satya Bagga. She advises in relation to all family matters, including Divorce, although she has particular expertise in complex children matters
Cohabitation agreement FAQs
What is a cohabitation agreement?
A cohabitation agreement is a contract that you can enter into with your partner to:
- Set out who owns what in your relationship;
- Put into writing how you will pay bills and your rent/mortgage;
- Set out how you will arrange your finances, e.g. details of joint bank accounts; and
- Decide how your finances will be divided if you decide to break up in the future.
Why do you need a cohabitation agreement?
Over time it has become the norm for couples to live together before getting married or entering into a civil partnership. Many have even decided against tying the knot altogether. However, while people aren’t committing to each other in ‘traditional’ ways, many couples are still dedicated to building a life together, such as buying property together, keeping joint finances, and having children.
Despite this, the written law still does not allow unmarried couples the same legal rights as married couples or civil partners. Not all relationships last forever and there have been some sad cases over the years of people losing their homes, businesses, belongings and pets because they legally belonged to their ex-partner. Although there are some limited options for unmarried couples to make legal claims, taking legal action can be lengthy, expensive and has no guarantee of producing a fair outcome.
A cohabitation agreement protects both parties in case they ever need to untangle their lives and separate, reducing the risk of lengthy legal disputes, heart-break, and financial uncertainty. Cohabitation agreements have therefore become increasingly popular over the years if only for giving people peace of mind that their future is protected.
What can a cohabitation agreement cover?
Your cohabitation agreement should cover all financial matters, including:
- Property ownership – how you want to split property ownership and the contributions you made/plan to make, including deposits, mortgage payments and home improvement costs
- Household bills and debts – how you plan to maintain these
- Bank accounts, savings and investments
- Details of insurance policies
- Details of nominated pension beneficiaries
- Ownership of personal belongings, such as cars, furniture and jewellery
- Ownership of pets
- Next of kin rights
A cohabitation agreement can also set out arrangements for children if you have any, such as where they will live and how much time they will spend with each parent if you separate.
Won’t making a cohabitation agreement just cause unnecessary conflict?
One of our clients’ common fears is that entering into a legal contract with your partner will counter-productively cause problems in the relationship rather than give you peace of mind.
It is true that entering into a contract with your partner is not the most romantic way to start off life as a cohabiting couple. So, we encourage people to look at it this way – marriage and civil partnership are also effectively legal contracts that give partners certain legal rights. Making a cohabitation agreement is more like a long-term commitment similar to marriage or civil partnership (but without committing to the social status of being spouses or civil partners).
We always take an open, constructive approach to negotiating cohabitation agreements. Our goal is to help you discuss and explore your options in a welcoming, neutral environment and defusing conflict where it arises. Our family law team includes trained Collaborative Lawyer, David Milburn, who has specialist experience helping individuals take a collaborative approach to their cohabitation agreement.
Where appropriate, we can advise on using the Collaborative Law process to negotiate your agreement – this involves attending a series of sessions with your partner and your respective Collaborative Lawyers to discuss your cohabitation agreement. You can also invite other professionals such as accountants or tax advisors to provide their professional input, so this process is especially useful for people with high value or complex finances.
Are cohabitation agreements legally binding?
A cohabitation agreement may be enforced by the courts if it fulfils certain legal requirements and you and your partner have both been open and honest about your finances.
The legal requirements include:
- You must both have received independent legal advice – this means that we cannot act for both you and your partner; your partner must instruct their own cohabitation agreement lawyer
- You must both enter into the agreement freely and voluntarily – if your partner pressures you into signing an agreement, it may be held invalid
- You must both sign the agreement
- The agreement must be in the form of a deed – this means that it must be signed and witnessed
- The agreement should be kept up to date, especially after any major life changes
Very few cohabitation agreements ever reach court and one of our primary goals is to ensure that the document sets out your interests clearly, making separation much easier to cope with and reducing the risk of disputes. However, with our assistance you can also trust that your agreement will be enforceable and protect your rights in case a legal dispute ever arises.
How else we can help cohabiting couples
As well as advice about cohabitation agreements, we can provide a full range of services to cohabiting couples to help them define their relationship and protect their interests. Our expertise includes:
- General advice about cohabitation – your rights as an unmarried couple
- Advice about making a Will – only spouses and civil partners have automatic inheritance rights, so it is essential to make a Will if you want to leave your money and property to your partner
- Conveyancing advice and Deeds of Trust – we can help you buy or sell your home and enter into a Deed of Trust to set out the proportions in which you own the property
- Advice about children and parental responsibility – if you are the father or same sex second parent, it is essential to ensure that you have parental responsibility (the rights and responsibilities of raising your child)
- Cohabitation disputes – helping you sort out issues if you and your partner break up, including:
- Reviewing, negotiating and enforcing the terms of cohabitation agreements
- TOLATA claims – to make a claim on your former partner’s property
- Arrangements for children including financial provision for the benefit of children.