What is a cohabitating relationship? 

A cohabitating relationship is where people are in a relationship, live together but are not married. It applies to same-sex couples in the same way it applies to opposite-sex couples. 

The law 

There is no such thing as common law marriage. A common law partnership has no legal validity, regardless of the amount of time you have lived with your cohabiting partner, or whether you have children. 
 
While the legal rights afforded exclusively to married couples determine what will happen to property, money, and other assets if a relationship breaks down, or in the event of death, there are currently no equivalent rights for cohabitees under UK law. 
 
The reality is, cohabitating couples have no legal duty to one another while living together, following separation, or on death. 

Property 

Dealing with the property that you shared with your former partner is often the most important issue that needs to be addressed. If you had legal advice when the property was purchased, and as a result you recorded the shares in the property that each of you own, that will determine how to settle matters. If you did not consider this at the time of purchase, or if the property was purchased by one of you, you will invariably need legal advice and assistance to determine the extent of your respective interests in the property. 

Cohabitation and children 

If you and your partner have a child, and you separate, it may have a significant impact on what happens to the ‘family home’ and also upon other future financial arrangements. The courts have a wide range of powers to make arrangements for the future security of children affected by the breakdown of unmarried parents including orders for the transfer of property and/or lump sum payments. 
 
The issue of child maintenance may also need to be considered. Regardless of the parties not being married, the non-resident parent will still be liable to pay child maintenance. In some circumstances this can be dealt with through the court, however more often than not an application will need to be made to the Child Maintenance Service if it is not possible to reach an agreement/voluntary arrangement. 
 
There may also be issues around the future care of any child. The law does not differentiate between couples who are married and those that cohabit when deciding who a child should live with on separation, and how much time the child should spend with the other parent. This is always decided based on the welfare of the child being paramount. 
 
There is also the matter of parental rights. Whilst married fathers automatically have parental responsibility for any child of the marriage, unmarried fathers will only have parental responsibility if they are named on the child’s birth certificate. If an unmarried father is not named on the birth certificate this can be rectified, however only if the mother enters into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the father or if the court makes an order that confers parental responsibility, such as a Parental Responsibility Order or a Child Arrangements Order that provides for the child to ‘live with’ the father. 

Cohabitation Agreements 

What is a Cohabitation Agreement? 

A cohabitation agreement is a legal document between unmarried couples who are living together. It sets out arrangements for finances, property and children while you're living together and if you separate, become ill or die. 
 
You can make an agreement at any time, although it is good to do it before you move in together. But you may want to consider one if you decide to have children or get a mortgage. 
 
A family law solicitor can help you prepare a cohabitation agreement and make sure it is legally binding. 
Cohabitation agreements can also be made between people who are not romantically involved – for example, friends or siblings. 

Reasons for a Cohabitation Agreement  

Cohabitees don’t automatically have rights like married couples – even if you’ve lived together for a long time and have children. 
 
So having a legal document like a cohabitation agreement can be useful, alongside a will, if one of you becomes seriously ill, dies or if you separate. It will protect you both, and any other family members who’ll be affected. 
 
A cohabitation agreement can also help you divide up bills and other responsibilities while you live together. 

What information will be required? 

We will ask for information such as: 
 
the value of both of your assets, like savings, investments, pensions 
if you rent or own a property, and whose name the property is in 
any property improvement work either of you have paid for 
both of your earnings 
if you or your partner have any children 
 
Your solicitor may suggest one of you gets advice from a separate solicitor before signing the agreement. This makes sure it protects both of your interests, and reflects what you both want. 

What can a Cohabitation Agreement cover? 

The cohabitation agreement sets out who owns what and in what proportion in the relationship and covers elements such as the following: 
Ownership of property 
Deposit on your home 
What share of the mortgage or rent you will pay 
How household bills will be dealt with 
Bank accounts and money 
Life insurance 
Pensions 
Assets such as cars, furniture, other property, jewellery 
Payment of debts 
Pets 
Next of kin rights 
Pension access, property title deeds and wills should also be considered 

Costs 

The cost of getting an agreement can vary depending on your circumstances. We will give you a free estimate at our free no obligation initial appointment. 
You may have to pay much more in legal fees if something goes wrong and you don’t have a cohabitation agreement. 
With so much to consider, you need to have the best legal expertise on your side. Our solicitors have decades of experience and are also members of Resolution, which means we are committed to promoting a constructive approach to family issues that considers the needs of the whole family. We offer a personal service, ensuring you are supported every step of the way. 
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