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Cohabitation Agreements - the good, the bad and the ugly

View profile for Georgina Stavrou
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In 2012 the Office of National Statistics revealed that cohabitation was the “fastest growing family type in the UK”. Despite its popularity, couples that choose to cohabit continue find themselves in a more vulnerable position to those that are married when their relationship breaks down.

Both the Law Commission and the most senior family Judge in England and Wales, Sir James Munby have recommended that the law on cohabitation needs reform. However, as proposals for reform have yet to be considered by Parliament, what can people do in order to protect themselves if they wish to cohabit rather than marry?

A cohabitation agreement (also known as a “living together agreement”) may be the answer. It is an agreement which records the rights, financial arrangements, and responsibilities between two people who live together whether as a couple or otherwise. For couples it can be used to set out their financial matters whilst living together and in the unfortunate event of their separation.

There are many advantages to having this type of agreement in place. For example:

  • The agreement enables parties to record the ownership of properties, vehicles, furniture or other personal belongings;
  • It can be used as a mechanism to preserve assets brought into or acquired during the relationship by one of the party’s;
  • It allows parties the freedom and flexibility to deal with their finances as they wish during their relationship (e.g. who will be paying the outgoings);
  • It also allows parties to deal with their finances in the event of a relationship breakdown. In some circumstances the agreement can provide that one party agrees to continue supporting their partner even after the relationship has ended; and    
  • It avoids the costs and uncertainty of litigation. Although there are costs involved in preparing such agreements, they are likely to be far less than the amount that may be incurred should the matter become contentious.

Although there are many benefits to having such an agreement in place there are also some disadvantages. For example, there is no certainty that such agreement will be upheld by the Court if ever challenged in the future. Additionally, many couples worry that suggesting having an agreement may come across as untrustworthy in their partner’s eyes and as such, could result in the relationship breaking down altogether.

Despite the disadvantages, cohabiting couples ought to be encouraged to consider such agreements as it may be best to have one in place than not to have one at all. The absence of an agreement could result in a party finding himself/herself in a vulnerable financial position at the end of their relationship compared to someone who has been married for a lesser period of time.

If you are living with a partner or, you are considering moving in with a partner and you would like to discuss entering into a Cohabitation Agreement, please contact the Freemans specialist Family Lawyers for advice on 020 7935 3522.