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Cohabiting Couples

More and more people are deciding to enter into a committed “living together” relationship as an alternative to marriage. However, unmarried couples do not have the same protection or legal rights as married couples.

Often, in the press and on television, the term “common law wife” can be heard. There is no such thing! How many times do people say that as they have been together for so many years, they are now entitled to half of their partners’ assets? This could not be further from the truth : in fact a person who has been married for 3 years may have far more rights than a person who has been living with their partner for 30 years!

As a cohabiting couple, unless an asset is held in joint names, neither party is entitled to share in the others’ assets. There is no right to maintenance (although maintenance for children is an exception). If a property is held, for example, in the man’s sole name and the parties have been living together for twenty years, at the end of the relationship the woman will have to show she should have a share in the property and this can be a hard burden to prove.

At the start of a cohabitating relationship, it is wise to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement. A Cohabitation Agreement sets out clearly what the financial arrangements are what will happen if the relationship ends. Ordinarily, it will contain such things as:-

  • who owns what at the beginning of the relationship
  • if there is property, how that property will be divided in the event of a breakdown of the relationship
  • how are the usual outgoings and expenses to be paid and by whom?
  • how debts will be dealt with if there are any
  • how contents will be divided
  • options for selling/transferring the home if the relationship ends

The alternative is to make a claim to the Courts for a share of property. However, if the property is not owned in joint names, the evidence that is necessary to prove that the non-owning person does have a financial interest in the property can be difficult to come by.

Generally, on separation, the main point of dispute is the family home and by entering into a Cohabitation Agreement, this issue is dealt with at the outset so there is little room for argument should the relationship come to an end.

Our experienced lawyers can help you and give you the advice you need to avoid future difficulties and the difficulties that may have arisen with the breakdown of your relationship.

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