Cohabiting couples who want legal protection if they break up have two options available to them.
One is to either get married or enter a civil partnership. But many people are against marriage for political and social reasons.
This leaves the only other option, which is to enter into a ‘cohabitation agreement’.
What is a cohabitation agreement?
Otherwise known as a living together agreement, a cohabitation agreement lays out who owns what and in what proportion. You can use a cohabitation agreement to set out how you will split the valuable things in your relationship if your relationship breaks down. It can also document how you will support your children, beyond your legal requirements to maintain them.
Step 1: Make a list of your assets
The first step is for you and your partner to list all the things that you want the agreement to cover and decide how you would divide them. While there is nothing that you must include in a cohabitation agreement, things that you may want yours to cover could include:
- Any property and assets – either owned before or bought while you were living together
- How you pay the mortgage, rent or household bills, and if this will affect the proportion of the property you will each be entitled to if you separate
- How you will split/allocate joint bank accounts and pensions
- Arrangements for your children
- Whether you will inherit from each other if one of you died
Step 2: Contact a solicitor
Once you’ve agreed how you will divide up your assets, contact a solicitor to get your agreement properly drawn up. Your solicitor will want to see proof of what you’ve included in your agreement, such as:
- Proof of assets, including savings, investments, and pensions
- Title deeds if you own a property
- Proof of any home improvements you’ve had done to the property, such as receipts for building work
- Proof of your earnings, such as payslips and bank statements
- Birth certificates of your children
If you’re both happy with the agreement after taking independent legal advice, you will both need to sign the document to make it legally binding.
Step 3: Keep your cohabitation agreement updated
To keep your cohabitation agreement legally binding, you will need to update it to reflect any significant change in your circumstances. This could include major purchases such as buying a new property, or major life events like the birth of a child or a move abroad.
If you and your partner do decide to get married, you won’t have to make any changes to your cohabitation agreement. As a married couple, you will have the rights and legal duties to each other as laid out under marriage law and your cohabitation agreement would come to a natural end. Nevertheless, you may want to consider making a prenuptial agreement before getting married. A prenuptial agreement gives you the power to control how your assets should be divided between you if you get divorced.
While no one wants to think about a relationship ending, a cohabitation agreement simply gives those couples who don’t want to get married the same considerations as those who are in civil partnerships or marriages. If you have been with your partner for a long time and consider yourself ‘common law married’ but feel neither of you have much protection, a cohabitation agreement can be a great option.