Our leading cohabitation solicitors provide guidance to cohabiting couples and advice on cohabitation disputes.
Increasingly, couples are choosing to live together without getting married. However, many misconceptions exist surrounding the status and financial implications of the relationship. Our family law team can provide legal advice at the start of a relationship when consideration should be given to a cohabitation agreement, as well as dispute resolution for cohabitating couples if their relationship breaks down.
There is no such thing as a "common law marriage". Even if you have lived together for many years, or have children together, there is no special status afforded to your relationship. This means that should the relationship break down, you would be reliant on trust and property law to determine your respective financial positions.
We have extensive expertise in negotiating settlements in relation to property and jointly held assets on relationship breakdown. We are equally experienced in making applications to the court to determine respective parties' interests.
We also encourage people to approach us at the beginning of a relationship and consider the merits of cohabitation agreements. Understanding the position at the outset and taking simple precautionary measures can prevent significant problems later on.
To help you deal with any issues in relation to cohabitation please view our clients' frequently asked questions.
We offer a free 30 minute consultation on matters concerning cohabitation.
Frequently asked questions
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Is there anything I should do before I begin to live with my partner?
At the outset of the relationship and to protect you as a cohabitant there are many issues you should consider. We provide a free 30 minute consultation where we will discuss all your options with you. If you are purchasing a property with your partner, you will need to consider whether you want to own the property equally or whether you need a declaration of trust setting out the unequal ownership of the property and what might happen if it were to be sold in the future. You may also need to consider life insurance, making a Will or entering into a cohabitation agreement. We will advise you on what is appropriate for your particular circumstances.
Can I enter into a written cohabitation agreement?
Our family law solicitors have extensive experience in drafting agreements setting out the arrangements which will apply whilst a couple lives together as well as establishing rights on the breakdown of the relationship. Such an agreement must meet certain conditions and standards if it is to be valid and we can ensure that these criteria are met to provide you with as much certainty as possible. You can regulate how you deal with your financial affairs during the course of your relationship as well as dealing with the division of assets should you separate. This can include what percentage each party will pay towards the bills and mortgage/rent. What proportion of the property each of you will own now and on separation, how any debts should be paid and how contents should be divided if you separate. In entering into the agreement before you cohabit it means that on any breakdown both you and your partner know exactly what will happen and will avoid the expense and stress of legal proceedings.
I do not have a cohabitation agreement and have separated from my partner, what happens to my home?
If your relationship has broken down the most common disputes relate to the ownership and occupation of your home, financial provision for your children and the arrangements for the care of your children. We understand that this can be an upsetting and stressful time and we will ensure that matters are dealt with sensitively and cost effectively in order to achieve the best possible outcome for you.
Our home is owned in joint names, do I own half?
If you own your property jointly with your partner, if the correct procedure was followed when the property was purchased, the shares in which you own the property should be clear. Otherwise, it will be presumed that you own the property in equal shares unless one party can prove otherwise.
There are a number of issues to consider such as the financial contributions you have each made, how you conducted your finances and why the house was purchased. We can advise you on the prospects of success of achieving a share in excess of 50% and how best to go about this.
The property is owned in my sole name, does my partner have an interest?
If your home is owned in the sole name of you or your partner and either party wishes to establish an interest in it, there are complex issues to consider as that party will need to establish the existence of a resulting or constructive trust, or proprietary estoppel. It is not possible to establish an interest just as a result of having lived in the property for a period of time.
Resulting trusts can be established by a direct contribution to the purchase price by the non-legal owner. We can advise you on whether any contribution you or your partner has made will be sufficient to establish a resulting trust and the likely share of the property they will receive.
A constructive trust can be established if it can be shown that both parties intended to share ownership of the property despite it being in one party's sole name and that one party acted to their detriment on the basis of this intention. There are a number of considerations for both establishing a common intention as well as detrimental reliance, such as conversations you have had with your partner, the reasons why the property is in one party's sole name, payments made towards the mortgage, financial contributions towards improvements to the property or actually working on such improvements. Usually, normal household duties or a contribution to household expenses will not be sufficient.
Our family law solicitors have extensive experience in this area and can advise you on whether any contribution you or your partner has made and whether in your particular circumstances there is any prospect of establishing a constructive trust.
Can I stay in the property?
If you do not have any legal or beneficial interest in the property our family law solicitors can advise you on whether you have any prospect of continuing to reside there by way of a licence or in circumstances of domestic violence. Otherwise you may have no legal right to remain in the property and could be excluded on being given reasonable notice.
Who owns the furniture and possessions in the house?
The division of belongings after a relationship breaks down can be a difficult process. Usually anything purchased by one party will remain in their ownership but items bought jointly can be more difficult to deal with. We can advise you on how best to approach these issues to reach a sensible solution.
Will my partner have to pay me maintenance?
Unlike a married couple, if a cohabiting couple separate there is no legal obligation to provide any financial support to your partner over and above any child maintenance that may be appropriate. This is the case regardless of the history of the relationship and despite the fact that one party might have been wholly financially dependent on the other. For this reason it becomes even more important that your position is protected in respect of your property.
We are not married does this affect our children?
If a child's parents are not married, although this makes no difference to the day to day care of the child whilst the parents are cohabiting, there are legal differences which alter the position if the parents separate. We understand that making the appropriate arrangements for your children can be the most difficult aspect of the breakdown of a relationship and our family law solicitors will always provide sensitive and clear advice, see our section on children.
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- Is there anything I should do before I begin to live with my partner?