The global pandemic has seen many couples have to postpone their large weddings as a result of the Covid -19 restrictions and these restrictions look set to continue for some time.
With large numbers of weddings postponed, many prenuptial agreements have also been put on hold, because, to enter into a valid prenup, there needs to be a wedding date or a time limit within the agreement as to when the wedding will take place. Many of these agreements are now potentially aborted and forgotten.
Whilst the wedding might be on hold right now, couples who are living together before they get married should not leave their finances unprotected just in case circumstances change before the big day.
The law of England and Wales does not recognise people living together as being in a legal relationship. Common-law marriages were abolished in 1753 and the concept of a common law husband or wife in today’s society is a misconception.
Surveys continue to show that a significant number of cohabiting couples believe that they are in a ‘common law marriage’ even though there is no such thing. Cohabiting couples do not have the legal rights and responsibilities that go with marriage, even if the dress has been chosen, the cake ordered, invitations sent, and wedding rings purchased.
With no legal rights, couples living together who have had to postpone their wedding should still protect themselves with a cohabitation agreement until they are able to get married.
Cohabitation agreements are like prenuptial agreements, but without the wedding. They protect couples in the short and long term whilst they are living together before they get married if, in fact, they ever do get married.
Similar to a prenup, a cohabitation agreement sets out what would happen if anything goes wrong in the relationship.
They agreements set out who owns what and in what proportion, and gives couples the ability to set out how they intend to split their property and assets, if the relationship ends. They can also be used in a more positive way to record how the relationship will work, such as who will pay the mortgage, pay for the holidays, pay for any refurbishments or fund renovations of the property etc.
Whilst there are calls for a legal framework to protect the rights and responsibilities of unmarried couples when they split up, the government has indicated that such reform remains a long way off and so cohabiting couples are unprotected by the law if their relationship comes to an end. Cohabitation agreements may seem unnecessary when times are good but, like pre-nups, they can save significant legal costs and manage the financial fallout if the relationship sours.