What You Need to Know About Living Together Agreements
Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK, according to the most recent statistics from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
In 2014, when the last census was held, there were around 3.2 million unmarried couples living together in_wp_link_placeholder the UK, double the amount of that in the mid-1990s.
Yet while there has been a significant increase in the number of couples and families choosing to cohabit, there is still no status in English law that recognises their rights in the event of a breakdown of the relationship.
While many people believe they are protected as a common-law spouse or partner (around one in four people living together think they have the same legal protection as married couples, according to research by the Co-op) this is not the case.
When married couples divorce, or civil partnerships are dissolved, both parties can potentially receive an equal share of any matrimonial asset, irrespective of in whose name that asset is held.
Unmarried, cohabiting couples have no such rights, regardless of how long they have been together or if they have children together.
Why a living together agreement is vital for all cohabiting couples?
When two people get married it is natural for them to consider getting a pre-nuptial agreement put in place so that their assets are protected by law should the marriage break down (see our article ‘5 Things to Know about UK Prenuptial Agreements’).
Without a pre-nuptial agreement, a divorcing couple’s assets will usually be split between them both and a decision as to how assets are shared are subject to various family law principles.
This is not the same for unmarried couples who choose to live together, as they have no legal rights if they separate.
Therefore the only options for a cohabiting couple to gain legal protection, should the relationship end, are to:
- Get married
- Enter a civil partnership, or
- Put a Living Together Agreement in place
Without an agreement, one of them could be left with nothing.
What is a living together agreement?
A Living Together Agreement (or a cohabitation agreement as it is also sometimes called) sets out who owns what and who is responsible for certain things if the relationship should end.
Typically, a Living Together Agreement will deal with how you would split your:
- Any other assets
It will also state how to:
- Manage bank accounts and any debts
- Deal with joint purchases (i.e. a car)
- Support any children
The Living Together Agreement may also look at how you will manage your day-to-day finances while you live together, such as how much each person will pay towards the rent, mortgage and monthly bills.
While it can be a difficult subject to broach, these agreements can provide clarity and peace of mind. Think of it like taking out health cover; it does not mean you think you are going to get ill, but it is good to know you are protected if anything should happen.
How is the Living Together Agreement put together?
To save time, and therefore money, it is a good idea to decide who owns what and how you would like your assets to be split if the relationship breaks down before you meet with your solicitor.
You will each need to seek separate legal advice. Then one of the legal representatives will draw up the Living Together Agreement and send it across to be reviewed and signed by the other.
Apart from a Living Together Agreement, do we need anything else to protect ourselves legally?
If you die without a will (and currently almost two thirds of British people do not have one) there are strict rules about who gets what.
English law does not recognise cohabiting partners, so the only way to ensure your partner will inherit what you would like them to after you die is to make a will.
(Note that the situation is different in Scotland where cohabitation and property rights are defined under the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006.)
How we can help
Since this article has been published we no longer offer Family Law services but we can help you with:
- Wills, Probate & Power of Attorney
- Personal Injury
- Court of Protection
- Medical Negligence