When a couple decide they want to live together, what do they need to know? Continuing their blog series on relationships, partner Fiona Wood takes a look at cohabitation agreements.
Lockdown living together
Over the past year there have been many reports in the media that the UK lockdown has prompted some couples to take the step of living together, a step which they might not have taken quite so quickly or even not at all if lockdown had not been necessary. We all hope that as these couples take their relationships to the next level, doing so will bring them great happiness. However, if it does not work out, there could be legal consequences for them on top of a broken heart.
The myth of the common law spouse
Despite what many believe – and around 25 percent of people living together think they have the same legal protection as married couples, according to research by the Co-op – there is no such status in English law as a common-law spouse or partner.
Yet there remain many myths about the claims that can be made by the so-called common law husband or wife if their relationship ends. In fact, the legal claims that can be made at the end of a cohabiting relationship are very limited compared to a couple who are married or in a civil partnership.
The main concern of most people is: can their partner make a claim on their property if they move in together? The simple answer is no, they can’t, as long as the house owner does not allow the other to make significant financial contributions to the property, such as funding a new kitchen or paying the mortgage. And even in those scenarios the money usually needs to have been paid with the intention of that person acquiring an interest in the house if they make those payments. You should avoid taking financial contributions of this nature from your partner if you do not want them to have a claim on the property.
In England and Wales there is no law which would enable one cohabitee to claim maintenance from the other for their benefit (as opposed to for the benefit of their child) if their relationship ends. The law is different in Scotland, although the circumstances where this can be done successfully are limited.
Making a financial claim
There is also no law which would enable one cohabitee to makes claims against the other cohabitee’s pensions, savings, investments, business interests etc at the end of a relationship as of right. They would have to show that they had contributed to that asset financially and that it was agreed that they would have an interest in it for their claim to be successful.
As the law stands at present, it is unlikely that one cohabitee would be able to make a successful financial claim against the other if their relationship ends, unless they have made significant financial contributions towards those assets. However, if you are planning to cohabit or have recently started cohabiting you may want to consider having a Cohabitation Agreement, which sets out what claims either of you has against the other, if any, if the relationship ends. This will provide you both with certainty and avoid the possibility of you having to defend claims against your assets if your relationship ends.