Common law marriage is a myth – you need real protection for your future
More than 3 million couples in the UK now live together without getting married or entering a civil partnership. What many of those cohabiting couples don’t realise is that they have no automatic rights to each other’s property if they split up.
Lots of people make the mistake of believing that living with their partner gives them ‘common law’ rights. However, there is no such thing as ‘common law’ marriage, so if you and your partner separate, your property and assets will be divided according to standard property law, rather than the principles of marital law that you might expect to apply.
This can make separation much more complex than for married couples or civil partners, introducing the potential for a lot of conflict and disappointment where people find they are not entitled to what they were expecting. This also risks pushing you into financial hardship, leaving you homeless and causing issues with any children you have together.
We would always advise couples who plan to move in together to draw up a cohabitation agreement. This can outline who is contributing what to the relationship and the property in financial terms, and give clarity on who would be entitled to what should you separate.
Unfortunately, most people don’t draw up a cohabitation agreement when they move in together. If you find yourself in this position when separating from your partner, our team of family dispute resolution experts can help you work through your finances and other practical issues.
Our cohabitation dispute solicitors can help to identify what you and your ex are entitled to, and assist you in reaching an amicable agreement over the settlement wherever possible.
Our cohabitation law services
We can help you take proactive action to avoid cohabitation disputes wherever possible and assist you with swiftly resolving those disputes that cannot be avoided.
Making a cohabitation agreement
A cohabitation agreement is a legally binding document that allows you and your partner to agree key practical issues, both for when you are together and for if you later go your separate ways.
Our family lawyers can help you draft a cohabitation agreement, or review one prepared by your partner, and negotiate any amendments you require in order to be comfortable with the document. We can ensure the agreement is fair and appropriate for your needs and that it will be legally enforceable if required.
Issues that can be covered in a cohabitation agreement include:
- How much each partner will contribute to rent/mortgage repayments and other bills
- What percentage of a shared home each partner owns
- What will happen to the shared home if the relationship ends
- What will happen with regard to any children you have together
- How savings, investments, pensions and other shared assets will be divided
Cohabitation dispute resolution
Our family lawyers have many years of experience dealing with cohabitation disputes, from those that are relatively straightforward to those that are much more complex. Wherever possible, we will seek to help you achieve a mutually acceptable outcome without the need for court action.
We offer various types of alternative dispute resolution for cohabitation issues, including mediation, collaborative law and arbitration. All of these options can save you a lot of time, money and stress compared to pursuing court proceedings.
An out-of-court approach is often a particular advantage in cohabitation disputes. This is because the strict interpretation of the law you are likely to get in a court often does not match what a couple may feel is fair based on their individual contributions during the course of their relationship.
Wills for unmarried couples
Having a valid, up-to-date Will is particularly important for couples who are not married or in a civil partnership, especially where they have children. This is because, under current English law, you have no automatic right to inherit any of your partner’s estate in the event of their death.
If a couple are married or in a civil partnership and one of them dies without leaving a Will, their spouse/civil partner will automatically inherit the first £250,000 of their estate, plus half of everything else above this. If the deceased has no children, their spouse/civil partner will inherit their whole estate, whatever its value.
However, this does not apply to unmarried couples, meaning you or your partner could potentially be left with nothing if one of you dies without leaving a valid Will.
Our friendly, expert Will writing solicitors can help you create a Will that makes your intentions clear and ensure that your partner and children are taken care of if the worst happens.
Our fees for cohabitation issues
Some of our services, such as drafting a straightforward cohabitation agreement, can often be provided on a fixed fee basis, while others will be charged at an hourly rate.
The exact costs involved in dealing with your cohabitation issues will depend on the complexity of the work, and therefore the level of expertise and time required.
You can find out more about our cohabitation law fees by checking out our fees and funding page.
Common questions about cohabitation agreements:
- What is a cohabiting couple?
A cohabiting couple is any couple that lives together on a permanent basis in a shared home without getting married or entering a civil partnership. This applies both where your home is rented, where you have bought a property together or if one of you is living in a property that the other owns.
- Is a cohabitation agreement necessary?
While we advise any cohabiting couple to make a formal cohabitation agreement, there are certain circumstances where it is particularly important.
Where you own a property together – Under the law, you will both be considered to own 50% of the property, even if you contributed unequal amounts to the deposit and/or mortgage repayments. A cohabitation agreement allows you to set out exactly what percentage each of you is entitled to, pre-empting any potential future confusion and conflict.
Where one of you lives in a property the other owns – A cohabitation agreement can give you security, for example preventing your partner from requiring you to leave immediately if you separate.
Where you have children together – You can establish where they will live if your relationship ends and how they will be supported financially.
- Do cohabitation agreements hold up in court?
For a cohabitation agreement to stand up in court, the following will need to apply:
- Both parties should have received independent legal advice before they signed the agreement
- Neither party should have been under pressure to sign the agreement
- Both parties should have made a full disclosure of their finances at the time the agreement was made
- The agreement must be fair to both parties
Why choose Thornton Jones for cohabitation agreements & cohabitation disputes?
Our family law team been helping unmarried couples across Yorkshire and the wider UK to deal with all of the legal issues related to cohabitation, including creating cohabitation agreements and dealing with separation.
Our team is led by Clare Thornton, a Resolution accredited specialist, family mediator, collaborative lawyer and family arbitrator (one of the only lawyers in the UK offering this service).
This focus on taking a non-confrontational approach to family dispute resolution is reflected across our whole team, meaning that wherever possible we will always try to find a way forward that works for you without the need for court action.
We are accredited by the Law Society for Family Law and independently regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Get in touch with our cohabitation lawyers in West Yorkshire
Speak to our cohabitation disputes solicitors in Ossett, Wakefield, Garforth, Sherburn in Elmet or Mapplewell, West Yorkshire today by calling 01924 290 029 or ask a question using our online enquiry form.