There are currently more than 3 million people living together in the UK as cohabiting couples according to the Office of National Statistics, leading to the questions of what legal protection there is for such couples if their relationship breaks down. Despite some people believing in the concept of a ‘common law marriage’, this has not existed in England and Wales since 1753. Many countries, including Scotland, Canada and Australia, now provide specific legal protection for cohabiting couples, however the law in England and Wales currently does not.
Until the law changes couples living together need to be aware of their rights, or lack of rights, and consider taking what measures they can take to protect themselves and their futures and hopefully avoid complex and costly disputes in the future if the relationship were to break down.
One thing you can do is enter into a cohabitation agreement, which is a legal agreement put in place by a couple living together, but not married or in a civil partnership. The agreement can deal with a wide range of matters, including property ownership, financial contributions during the relationship and, in some cases, arrangements for the children and future maintenance. The purpose of the agreement is to regulate how you intend to live together and what would happen in the event that the relationship ended. Couples like that it gives certainty as to what is intended at the outset in order to reduce the potential for future disagreement. Court proceedings between separating couples can be very stressful and expensive, as well as being inherently uncertain, which can hopefully be avoided if you have a valid agreement in place confirming what would happen.
Whilst there is no guarantee that a cohabitation agreement will be upheld by a court, they will generally be enforced so long as the validity of the agreement cannot be challenged. There are guidelines which are therefore followed when preparing an agreement, to ensure that it carries as much weight as possible. This is why it is important to take advice from a family solicitor and have the agreement prepared by them.
Other things to consider when moving in together include the preparation of declarations of trust and wills, dealing with property ownership and inheritances.