Cohabitation agreements: why your relationship should be in writing even when you choose not to marry

There are millions of couples in the UK who share their lives without formally agreeing their relationship in the eyes of the law.

While there is no obligation for a couple to ever marry or define their relationship with their partner, maintaining this unofficial status can put the couple at a serious disadvantage should something happen to one of them.

It is a misconception that common law husband or wife status is enough to protect a couple that choose to share their assets and support each other for a long period of time. In fact, common law marriages have not been recognised since the 18th century.

When married couples or civil partners divorce or dissolve their relationship, both parties have a legal right to maintenance and sharing of assets in England and Wales. Cohabiting partners do not possess the same rights in relation to each other, regardless of the length of time they have been living together.

While there have been cases in the UK where an individual has successfully argued that long-term cohabitation gives them rights to the estate of a deceased or former partner, there are no guarantees.

If you live with a long-term partner but do not intend to marry or enter into a civil partnership, it is a good idea to consult a legal service provider in order to discuss the benefits of a cohabitation agreement. Ensuring that both parties’ wills are kept up to date can also play an important role in the allocation of assets in the event of a death or relationship breakdown.

Why should you create a cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation agreement can be useful in formalising information relating to how a jointly occupied property is paid for, how household and family bills are divided and identifying how two individuals’ lifestyles are intertwined. It is otherwise known as a ‘living together’ agreement or a ‘no nup’.

In the event that a separation, a cohabitation agreement documents how a couple plan to split up an estate, personal belongings, bank accounts, debts and joint purchases. It can also outline how children will be supported over and above the statutory legal requirements.

It may not sound very romantic to outline what would happen in the event of a break-up. However, preparing for the worst can help ease the headache of negotiating with your partner should the relationship not work out.

How does it work?

Once a couple have agreed who owns what in the relationship and how assets would be divided in the event of a split, it is the responsibility of one party to have an agreement properly drawn up by a legal service provider. This should then be formalised by sending to the other party’s legal expert for assessment. Once both parties are satisfied, the document should be signed and witnessed.

This forms a legally binding contract that is enforceable in a court of law should a couple decide to separate. In most instances, however, the presence of a cohabitation agreement makes it easier for parties to negotiate the division of assets without resorting to a court hearing.

What does a cohabitation agreement cost

Costs may vary depending on the complexity of the agreement required and also where in the country a couple is based. Legal service providers may charge out to clients on an hourly rate or fixed fee basis.


If you would like to speak to someone about a Cohabition agreement, start comparing legal service providers now.


Adam Rivers

Adam creates supportive, easy to read guides for The Law Superstore. He specialises in family law, helping people through divorce, child custody arrangements, and other relationship issues.

Thinking about making a cohabitation agreement with your partner?

Find a family solicitor near you who can help

Get Quotes