09 August, 2013
The law in England and Wales does not recognise in any meaningful way a living-together relationship outside marriage or civil partnership.
Although the number of unmarried couples has apparently doubled since the mid-1990s, and the number of children living with unmarried parents has risen significantly, virtually nothing has changed in how the law treats cohabiting couples and their property if they separate.
If you are not married, or in a civil partnership, and your relationship breaks down, there is very little protection for the weaker of the partners. On Divorce or Civil Partnership breakup, both parties have a legal right to maintenance and a fair share of the assets, but cohabiting couples have no such rights, regardless of the number of years they have lived together.
For example, if one partner owns the property, and the other partner simply moves in to that property, even if they separate after 30 years, the party without the legal ownership of the property has no right to a share in it, no right to maintenance, and even if there were some ground for arguing that there should be a share, the legal costs are usually a lot more than on Divorce. This is because the Courts have to rely on old pieces of legislation, previous case law, and consider complex issues.
So as the law stands, the only solution for cohabiting couples who want legal protection in the event that they separate is either to marry, to enter a civil partnership, or to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement.
A Cohabitation Agreement would set out who owns what, and how the assets should be split on separation. It can also deal with how the parties will support the children, who will contribute towards the day to day living expenses and so forth.
Romantic it is not, but certainly it will save a lot of emotional and financial heartache in the future. If an agreement is made whilst you are living together, it is usually done in a fair way and without the external pressures that arise on relationship breakdown.
It is effectively a legal contract between the parties. In order for it to be binding, it is important that both parties take separate advice before they enter into the contract, and whilst this will involve each party paying a separate legal representative, this cost is very little compared with what it could cost to sort things out in the event of separation without an agreement.