This week is Resolution’s Cohabitation Awareness Week. Cohabiting couples, or those couples who live together but are not married are the fastest growing family type in the UK, with the government now estimating 3 million people living together.
Resolution, an organisation that represents Family Lawyers, are hoping to bring about a change in the law to provide cohabiting couples with more protection. That is because couples that live together have no ability to make claims against the other should their relationship break down. A married couple in a similar position will have the ability to make claims in relation to property, capital, income and pension. The only right a cohabitee will have is potentially an interest in a property, which is dependent on the circumstances of each situation.
The Law Commission recommended some time ago that there be law reform and some protections introduced for cohabiting couples that had lived together for a number of years. As yet, the Government is yet to act on these recommendations. With Brexit dominating the legislative agenda, change is unlikely to happen soon. As such, the focus this week is to raise awareness and educate people about their rights and responsibilities should their relationships sadly come to an end.
Contrary to widely held beliefs, there is no such thing as a “common law spouse” regardless of the length of a relationship, even if the parties have children together. We recognise that many couples who live together are in committed relationships, living as husband and wife but they may not be aware of the lack of protection provided to them by the law.
If you are thinking of moving in together, we recommend you have a discussion with your partner about your financial arrangements and what your plans are for your finances whilst you are living together. Many people are put off by this idea or think that it is an unromantic thing to do. However, we are increasingly approached by couples wishing to regulate their affairs by entering in to “Cohabitation Agreements” to avoid any issues later on regarding the ownership of items, property, even down to the monthly outgoings on the property. Increasingly, couples wish to take control over what will happen with their affairs at an early stage. There is one advantage to the current state of the law. As it is lacking in providing formal protection, each couple is free to agree whatever is most suitable for their personal circumstances and make their own flexible arrangements.
If you are already living together, we recommend you review your current arrangements. Do you wish to place your current arrangements in writing and enter in to an agreement? You may also wish to review your Wills. Do they record your wishes as to what you want to happen to your assets in the event of your death? Your cohabitee will not automatically inherit anything without specific provision being made for them in your Will. If you own a property together, how do you own it? Is it jointly owned? Do the deeds reflect your understanding as to how you wish to own the property? If not, seek specialist advice as to how to amend the position.
Cohabitation Agreements especially are straightforward documents that our experienced team deal with on a regular basis, and they are becoming increasingly common. If this is an issue relevant to you, please contact a member of the Family Team for assistance.