Cohabitation on the rise
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that, in 2014, around 1 in 8 adults in England and Wales were living as a couple but were not married or in a civil partnership.
What rights do cohabitees have if their relationship breaks down?
Parliament has pondered legislation on this issue but, as it currently stands, cohabitees have very few rights. Under current law, cohabiting couples do not have any legal rights to remain in a property which they do not own, or take a share of any assets which are not held in their sole name – such as savings or a business share – should they separate.
This point is illustrated by the recent case of Curran v Collins who had been cohabiting for 33 years. Upon separating in 2010 they found themselves embroiled in a dispute where the assets included several properties and their business, a kennel/cattery, which operated out of those properties. Unfortunately for Ms Curran, all of the properties were held in Mr Collins’ name.
The Court did not find that Ms Curan had an interest in the properties so, even after a 33 year relationship, she came away with nothing except for her half share of the jointly owned dogs.
As this case demonstrates, it can be just as costly and complex to resolve a cohabitee dispute as it can be for a married couple to undergo the whole divorce and financial settlement process.
The most effective means of protection in the event that a dispute arises is to enter into what is known as a Cohabitation Agreement (or Cohabitation Contract) at the earliest opportunity. An agreement like this will set out and regulate assets, whether they are held jointly or in either party’s sole name, and can make provisions for the future.