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Cohabitation and Unmarried Couples

More and more of us are choosing to buy a home and move in with our partner without getting married first, either because we don’t want to or because we’re going to do it later.

Although it may seem unfair, being married brings automatic legal rights which cohabiting couples currently don’t have – there really is no such thing as a common law marriage.

However there are sensible steps you can take to protect yourself legally and financially. It may not feel very romantic to look ahead to a ‘what if’ scenario when things might go wrong between the two of you – especially as it may never happen – but clarity about the future can bring security.

What is a Cohabitation Agreement?

So, if you are thinking about buying a home with your partner, or if you have already done so, taking out a Cohabitation Agreement is an uncomplicated way of making sure you both know where you stand – who owns and owes what and in what proportions, what financial arrangements you have decided to make while living together and how property assets and income should be divided if you split up.

It can be as detailed as you want, covering contents, personal belongings, savings, pets and how much each of you contributed to the mortgage deposit and subsequent payments.

Read our legal guide on cohabitation agreements or “no nups”.

What is a Declaration of Trust?

A Cohabitation Agreement often incorporates a Declaration of Trust, a binding agreement which confirms in black and white exactly what share of the property you each own, how the proceeds of sale will be divided if the property is sold as well as things like who is going to pay the mortgage and in what proportions.

"James dealt with matters very efficiently and empathetically and always answered telephone calls and queries the same day - excellent communication from him."

"Rebecca helped me with a separation agreement. The whole process went very smoothly and she always provided a prompt response to any questions I had. I would definitely recommend Rebecca"

"My experience with Wards Solicitors was excellent, both members of your team that I dealt with were ethical and ensured I understood the process. I will use Wards again should I need."

A Declaration of Trust is also useful if you are buying a home with someone you’re not in a relationship with – a friend, a sibling, a parent or grandparent. Again, it is best to get the legal side of things crystal clear from the outset.

Why having a Will is so important

Making a Will and keeping your Will up to date is always a good idea but when you are cohabiting, it’s vital. Unlike married couples, as a cohabitee you don’t have an automatic right to your partner’s estate if one of you dies without leaving a Will. Addressing this is key – drawing up a legal document which sets out exactly what you want to happen if one of you dies.

Read why should you make or revise your Will?

Cohabitation Disputes

Everything we have talked about on this page is designed to make sure you can enjoy your relationship knowing the legal side of things is sorted out if you do split up.

Wards Solicitors are also here to help if things go wrong and you have no Cohabitation Agreement or Declaration of Trust in place. We will always do everything we can to help you settle your differences by negotiation, mediation or, as a last resort, going to court.

If you would like more information, please contact a member of our team.

Because your home is likely to be the biggest investment you will every make, you should consider entering into a Cohabitation Agreement or Declaration of Trust.

A Cohabitation Agreement is particularly important if you are contribution more to the purchase price than your partner in order to protect your investment and to make sure you don’t end up with less money than you put in if it is sold.

A Cohabitation Agreement will set things out clearly and avoid your partner acquiring an interest in your property – which could happen if they contribute towards the mortgage or pay for something like an extension.

You should discuss this issue with your conveyancer at the time of purchase and enter into a Declaration of Trust detailing the contributions and ownership of the property. This needs to be clear from the outset to avoid possibly having to give away 50 per cent of the property’s value at a later date.

Because you will not be named on the title as a legal owner, you should enter into a Cohabitation Agreement otherwise it will be difficult to prove that you are entitled to an interest in the property in the future. A stressful dispute could follow and in the worst case scenario you could lose the money you put into the property.

If you have a Cohabitation Agreement in place, the way forward should be clear. But if you don’t, and the two of you can’t agree, we can help. We will always start by trying to negotiate with your ex-partner and if an agreement can be reached, this can be recorded in a Separation Agreement by which you will both be bound.

If not, we will be able to help you with making a Court application for an Order of Sale which can force your former partner to agree to sell.

It depends on the circumstances and as the law is complicated in this area, it is usually best to talk to a solicitor. We can offer you a free, half hour appointment with a member of the Cohabitation team.

Potentially, yes. It’s always better to tackle these kind of issues as and when they arise and not years later. Disputes of this nature can quickly get complicated so it’s important to take legal advice. We can offer you a free, half hour appointment with a member of the Cohabitation team.

With any dispute, we always do everything we can to avoid Court proceedings and the vast majority of cases can be resolved through negotiation and mediation.

If they left a Will, their estate will be distributed in accordance with its terms. If they didn’t it will be distributed amongst their relatives in accordance with the intestacy rules which means that if they owned the home you share in their sole name, you won’t be entitled to stay.

If you find yourself in this situation, you can make a claim for ‘reasonable financial provision’ under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. For help and information about this, please contact our Probate disputes team.