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Cohabitation: a survival guide

Cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as married couples when a relationship breaks down.

Here are Weightmans’ top 10 tips if you are considering moving in with your partner, or have already chosen to move in together.

Our cohabitation walkthrough

1. Have 'the talk'

Ok — so your decision for choosing to live together might have been prompted by various things, possibly even by the increasing cost of living, but discuss why is it that you really want to start living together. Whatever your individual reasons, ensure your partner is on the same page. This is called the ‘expectation gap’.

Talk about your long-term goals and ambitions if this is the start of something more than a (hopefully) short term fix. Whilst there is room for everyone to change their minds, it is important at the very least to have a discussion at the outset, such as where do you see yourselves living and working in five, ten and 15 years? Would you like to have children etc.?

2. Be realistic

If you think living together won’t change things — it does and it should, even in more normal circumstances. You will get to know each other on a much deeper level, the good, the bad and the ugly. Ideally, you hope to learn how to better meet one another’s needs, but you will still both need to work on your relationship. How have you both handled conflict in the past — as a team or individually? Try to focus on what is important and respect the fact that you are having to share a common space, and that you have both chosen to do so. If you’re not prepared to compromise and accept the good with the bad, maybe you should re-evaluate your decision to cohabit.

3. It’s time to talk money

Sit down and speak openly and honestly about your respective financial positions. How much will you be bringing to the table each month? Are you comfortable talking about how much you earn? Do you have any liabilities? Are you going to split the mortgage/rent and bills equally or based on a percentage of what you both earn? Should you create a budget? Should you open a joint account? If so how much will you both contribute and what are the ground rules? Studies have shown it is important, if you’re able to, to put away a proportion of your salary for private spending, which should avoid arguments over the latest splurge on a new handbag or Cup Final tickets — when we can resume those activities again.

4. Lifestyle choices

Consider your individual lifestyles and what lifestyle you would like to create together. Do you work to live and they live to work? What are your good and bad habits? What is your current routine and social habits, even though currently compromised? Are you flexible about these? Different lifestyle choices and priorities are often the biggest cause of conflict in relationships. Whilst most people start to rely upon one another more as cohabiting means sharing big responsibilities, be it financial, emotional or practical, it is important that you still set time aside for yourself, your friends and your family as well as each other. If you lose what you enjoy, you lose yourself and your experiences and friendships are what make you unique.

5. Know your rights — they are limited!

Get clued up and take some initial advice from a solicitor if you have any questions. There is no such thing as a common law marriage. Cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as married couples when a relationship breaks down, even if this turns into a long term relationship or you have children.

6. Renting

If you rent a property together make sure your name is also on the tenancy agreement and not just your partner’s to try and avoid an unwanted eviction until you’ve sorted out your next move.

7. Homeowners: consider a declaration of trust

If you plan to buy a property together we strongly advise you to enter into a declaration of trust which will clearly set out your respective shares in the property and what you will both receive in the event of a sale. If you are moving into a partner’s property on the understanding that your contribution towards the mortgage and bills is intended to give you a share of the property in the event of a sale, we'd also advise you to enter into a declaration of trust.

8. Who owns what?

Give some thought to how you might own the property; there are two options, joint tenants or tenants-in-common. If you own the property as joint tenants, you both own the whole of the property together and if your partner dies their share automatically passes to you. If you hold the property as tenants-in-common, you can each hold different shares in the property, for example 70/30, 60/40 or 50/50. Unless you specify your respective shares it will be assumed you hold the property equally. If your partner dies, their share in the property will pass according to their will.

9. Consider a cohabitation agreement

Consider drawing up a cohabitation agreement more commonly known as a “living together agreement”. This sets out your respective financial positions and how your assets should be divided if your relationship comes to an end, including your rights and responsibilities towards one another and any children you might have. If you have both taken independent legal advice, exchanged full and frank disclosure and signed the agreement free from pressure and undue influence it will generally be upheld by a court.

10. You’re never too young for a will

Consider making a will, especially if you plan to start a family. We know it’s often something you think you will do ‘when you’re older’ or ‘when the kids are here’ but life can get in the way — sooner rather than later is always best!

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For more information or to schedule a free call to discuss any issues relating to cohabitation, contact our cohabitation solicitors.

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