In the UK today, couples living together are quickly becoming the fastest growing family group and in times when we have seen a gradual but continuing decline in married couples.
Increasingly over the last year we have seen a rise in client enquiries which relate to unmarried couples and what legal protection is available to them upon their cohabitation and any subsequent separation.
Myth buster: Common law marriage
It is a common myth in the UK that couples who cohabit for any reasonable period of time are entitled to an element of protection which takes the form of “common law marriage”. This is not, and has never been, the case. This has been a common misconception and couples upon separation are being hit financially because of this belief.
At this time, couples living together have little legal protection upon separation. Whilst there has been a continual call for legal framework for cohabiting couples upon separation, any change in current legislation is making slow progress. We, as legal practitioners and the general public are still waiting for a breakthrough in this regard.
In light of this lack of legal framework it is vital that couples planning on living together give great consideration to their intentions upon their separation and should do so at the earliest opportunity. Whilst couples will be hesitant to do this at the outset of their relationship, taking steps to record their intentions prior to, or during, their cohabitation will only serve to protect their respective financial positions.
Therefore, taking independent legal advice at the outset of a relationship and entering into a Cohabitation Agreement is as important now as it has ever been. A Cohabitation Agreement is a legal document and which intends to have legal effect. By entering into such an agreement, the parties show a clear intention to create a legal relationship and form a valid contract. It is important to note that the document could be challenged if not drafted appropriately. It is usual for the document to be accompanied by a Certificate from their Legal Representative confirming that they have advised their client as to the effect of the agreement.
It is worth noting that couples can enter into a Cohabitation Agreement before or after they move in together.
There are several matters that should be included within a Cohabitation Agreement such as housing, real property and joint bank accounts to name only a few.
There are also a number of matters which require some thought from the couple but which should not be included within a Cohabitation Agreement such as arrangements for any children. These matter should be dealt with separately.
It is important to receive legal advice as to the terms of the Cohabitation Agreement as the inclusion of some matters could lead to the document being challenged and deemed as invalid.
How can Davison’s help?
Our established family lawyers will be able to draft the agreement and provide you with certainty that you have taken steps to protect your assets, should the relationship ever break down.
We are able to offer a fixed fee appointment to all potential new clients, during which we can provide advice and an estimate as to costs. This in turn will also provide a better understanding as to the options which are available to you.