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Family Law

Cohabitation and Unmarried Couples Solicitors

Are you and your partner living together but you are not married?  Did you know that the concept of "common law husband or wife" is a myth?

Contrary to popular belief, cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples, no matter how long they have lived together.  When a relationship comes to an end, there can therefore be confusion and further distress about the division of any joint assets and arrangements for children.

One way to avoid such disputes is to write a Cohabitation Agreement in the early stages of your relationship.  Should the relationship breakdown and you do not have a Cohabitation Agreement in place, you may face lengthy and costly legal proceedings in Court if you are not able to make arrangements amicably through a Separation Agreement.

With years of experience and a deep understanding of the intricacies involved in cohabitation, our Family & Relationships department are here to protect your rights and provide the guidance you need for a secure future.  Our Cohabitation and Unmarried Couples Solicitors have provided answers here to several questions relating to this area of law for unmarried couples.  Should you wish to discuss your situation in more detail during our free initial consultation, you can contact a member of the team today.


Cohabitation & Unmarried Couples Frequently Asked Questions

What constitutes cohabitation?

Cohabitation refers to a situation where unmarried couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, live together in a long-term relationship. While it may feel like marriage in many aspects, it is important to understand that, legally, cohabitation does not carry the same rights and protections as marriage.

What is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A Cohabitation Agreement, occasionally referred to as a "Living Together Agreement" is a legal document that sets out each partner’s rights, responsibilities, and entitlements during the course of your relationship and in the event of a separation. It can cover property, finances, children, and other important matters. Having a Cohabitation Agreement can be particularly useful if one of you is bringing assets, such as property or savings, into the relationship or where there are children.

Having a Cohabitation Agreement drafted when relations between you and your partner are amicable can often avoid the expense and scope for disagreement over the sharing of assets should the relationship break down.

Why is a Cohabitation Agreement essential for unmarried couples?

While it is not a legal requirement to have a Cohabitation Agreement, it is highly recommended for any couple living together due to the fact that cohabiting couples do not have the legal rights afforded to married couples. It is recommended to draw up the agreement before you move in together, however they can be put in place at any point to formalise the arrangements you have.

What is included in a Cohabitation Agreement?

The Cohabitation Agreement will cover a variety of aspects relating to your home life, covering the following areas:

  • Division of property: The agreement outlines how your assets, both those acquired before and during the relationship, will be divided in the event of a separation. This can include property, vehicles, bank accounts, investments, and other valuable possessions. The agreement can include a Declaration of Trust, providing even further clarity on property ownership.
  • Financial responsibilities: The agreement may address how household expenses and financial responsibilities will be shared during the cohabitation. It can specify contributions to rent/mortgage payments, utilities, groceries, and other joint expenses.
  • Debt obligations: The agreement may detail how your debts, such as loans or credit card debts, will be handled. It can help protect each partner from becoming responsible for the other’s debts in case of a breakup.
  • Child arrangements and support: If you have children together, the agreement can address visitation rights, living plans and financial support arrangements.
  • Termination of the agreement: The agreement should outline the conditions under which it can be terminated, such as mutual consent or certain triggering events. This ensures that both you and your partner understand the process for dissolving the agreement if necessary.

A Cohabitation Agreement may include provisions regarding inheritance and Wills, however, we would always recommend that you seek legal advice and have appropriately drafted Wills in place separately to the Cohabitation Agreement.

Can Cohabitation Agreements be changed or updated?

These agreements can be revised to reflect changes in your circumstances or preferences, for example if you have a child, are diagnosed with an illness, receive an inheritance or there is a change in your employment. Life is ever-changing, and it is essential to keep your legal arrangements up-to-date.

Are Cohabitation Agreements legally binding and enforceable?

Cohabitation Agreements are enforceable provided they meet certain legal requirements. To be considered valid, the agreement should be in writing and signed by both you and your partner voluntarily, without any pressure or coercion, and ideally you will both have had the opportunity to seek independent legal advice before signing.

What is a Separation Agreement?

While a Cohabitation Agreement is for you and your partner to sign during your relationship, a Separation Agreement is for the eventuality that your relationship has come to an end.

Occasionally called a "Deed of Separation" or "Separation Deed", this is a written agreement setting out arrangements for your finances, property and children.

What is included in a Separation Agreement?

Similar to a Cohabitation Agreement, a Settlement Agreement will include making arrangements for the following matters:

  • Division of assets and finances: The agreement typically addresses how your assets, debts, and financial resources will be divided between you and your former partner. This could include keeping assets you have brought into the relationship or you may wish to make a claim on assets acquired either jointly or individually.
  • Child arrangements: If you have children, the agreement will often outline child visitation arrangements. It may specify which parent the children will primarily reside with, the schedule for visitation with the other parent, as well as access to financial support.
  • Living arrangements: The agreement may define where each partner will live after the separation, whether it is the family home or separate residences.
  • Responsibility for debts: The agreement will clarify how debts, such as loans and credit card debts, will be handled post-separation.

How enforceable is a Separation Agreement?

Separation Agreements are technically not legally binding but they are a contract and are enforceable if certain requirements are met. Both parties must enter into the agreement voluntarily and it is advisable that you and your former partner receive independent legal advice to review the document prior to signing.

Can I make a financial claim as an unmarried parent?

Should you have children with your former partner and you are seeking financial support, it may be possible to pursue a claim for a financial settlement if you separate. These are referred to as Schedule 1 claims under the Children Act 1989.

The claims that an unmarried parent may pursue on behalf of their child are not the same as those available to married parents so taking legal advice at an early stage is important and can enable you to achieve an amicable settlement with a focus on financial provision for your child.

Contact our Cohabitation and Unmarried Couples Solicitors

We appreciate that these conversations can be difficult as no-one wishes to contemplate the end of their relationship.  Having these discussions can assist with planning for your cohabitation, setting out the boundaries for your future relationship and providing you both with peace of mind that arrangements are in place.

Should you have any questions relating to Cohabitation Agreements or Separation Agreements if your relationship has broken down, contact us today from our offices in Andover, Romsey, Salisbury, Totton or Witney using the phone numbers below, emailing or using the Contact Form: