Cohabitation - A Survival Guide

This year, Resolution’s Awareness Week focuses on the need for legal reform to provide rights for cohabiting couples, especially if they separate.…

1. Have "the talk"

Why is it that you want to start living together; is it love, did it just happen, financial convenience, to fix pre-existing problems in the relationship, or is it a show of commitment on the road to marriage? 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, such as where do you see yourselves living and working in 5, 10 and 15 years? Would you like children? Whilst there is room for everyone to change their minds, it is important at the very least to have a discussion at the outset.

2. Be realistic

If you think living together won’t change things - it does and it should. 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 you are sharing a common space because you chose 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. Decide where to live

Are you going to move into your partner’s property, or are they moving into yours? Perhaps you’d like to find somewhere new together to avoid any territorial issues.

4. 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.

5. 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? 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 and 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.

6. Know your rights – they are limited!

Get clued up and take some initial advice from a solicitor before moving in together. There is no such thing as a common law marriage. Cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as married couples when the relationship breaks down, even if you have children and have lived together for several years.

7. Renting?

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

8. Homeowners? Consider a Declaration of Trust

If you’re buying 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.

9. Who owns what?

Give some thought to how you 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.

10. You’re never too young for a Will

Consider making a will if you are going to live together and start a family, especially if you decide to hold the property as tenants-in-common. 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!

11. Hope for the best but plan for the worst

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.

12. Consider getting married

Studies have shown that relationships are more likely to last if you’re married than if you cohabit owing to perceived lower levels of commitment in a cohabitation situation. Interestingly, the older you are when you decide to marry, the better your chance of marital success. Don’t be hasty to book the dress fitting and reception though – as with cohabiting, marriage is a serious decision and serious thought should be given to whether its right for you.

Linzi Perriman is a solicitor in the family law team at national law firm Weightmans LLP:

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