The number of unmarried couples who are living together has dramatically increased in recent years and over 40% of births in the UK are now outside marriage.
Many people still believe that there is a status of ‘common law marriage’ which gives cohabitants the same rights as married couples. However, this is not the case. The financial orders available to married couples do not apply to couples living together and cohabitants must rely instead on (often) complex law that has developed over time to deal with their problems.
This is why an increasing number of cohabiting couples are choosing to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement, which sets out the arrangements which will apply whilst they are living together, as well as establishing rights on the breakdown of the relationship.
At one time a Cohabitation Agreement would have been declared void as a matter of public policy as being likely to prejudice the status of marriage. However, social attitudes have changed sufficiently over the years and a recent case gave the strongest indication yet there was nothing contrary to public policy in a Cohabitation Agreement.
Cohabitation Agreements are governed by the principals of the law of contract. Therefore, to be enforceable, those signing it must not be placed under any undue influence, they must intend to create legal relations, there must be consideration and the Agreement must be certain and clear.
Cohabitation Agreements usually cover such issues as the ownership of property and possessions, the payment of bills, liability for debts, ownership of bank accounts and cars and what happens to the parties’ assets in the event of the relationship breaking down. By defining and dealing with these issues at the outset, the aim is to avoid a costly dispute and possible court proceedings if the relationship comes to an end and an agreement cannot be reached as to what the financial arrangement should be.
We are very experienced in advising cohabitants and drafting Cohabitation Agreements to formalise their arrangements upon living together.