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Unmarried Couples, Cohabitation Agreements and Declaration of Trusts

Cohabitation is more common in the UK than marriage, yet the law relating to couples who cohabit is more complex and has not kept up with modern relationships. It is therefore very important that if you are considering living together, that you know your rights. The outcome if you separate may be very different to what you expect and the cost of pursuing cases to court is expensive, protracted and uncertain. In addition, you could end up paying the other persons costs if you are unsuccessful.

So what are your rights if you live together? The majority of law relating to couples who live together is governed by old property trust law. There has over the last decade been various attempts by Government and then legal community to bring about change for couples who cohabit. However, none have been successful in simplifying the legal rights for cohabitees.

Due to the complex nature of the law in this area, we recommend our client’s consider setting out their intentions before they start to cohabit. Whether you are considering moving in with someone, or buying a house together, it is important that at the outset you set out your plans regarding your cohabitation and what to expect should you separate.

We understand your needs and concerns and so for example, you may need advice on:

  • How do you preserve the equity you already have in your home if someone is moving in?
  • How do you secure your financial interest in a property if you are paying for renovations or improvements?
  • If you are buying a house together, what if you have savings or proceeds of sale from a former home which you intend to invest in the new property but wish to protect if you separate?

All of these questions are common and understandable. However, if you do not define at the outset, what is to happen if the property is sold, the legal outcome if you separate could be far different from what you thought would be the case. What you may not know is that, if you buy a house together and you put in unequal contributions to the purchase price, unless you set out who gets what from the sale proceeds, the law would presume that you owned the property in equal shares. As a result any deposit provided from your savings or a gift from a parent would be shared with your former partner and given the restrictive nature of the law, you would be unlikely to recover the money if you took your former partner to court.

There are also a lot of other misconceptions surrounding rights of cohabitee’s, for example, if you move into your partner’s home and pay for lavish decoration, unless you undertake significant renovations like installing new kitchen or bathroom, you are unlikely to establish an interest in the property.

This is also the case even if you pay half the mortgage, it does not automatically mean that you will establish an interest in the property, no matter how long you have lived together. There is no such thing as a common law wife or husband. You may own your own home and want to protect it from a new partner, unless you enter into an agreement about your individual rights over the property, you cannot be sure your interest will be protected.

Our solicitors are used to negotiating the difficulties which stem from the breakdown of a cohabiting relationship. We know what issues arise and are experienced in drafting agreements which clearly set out what will happen when a couple separates, lessening the worry and allowing the couple to enjoy living together, without uncertainty.

Family Team

Lindsey Canning

Deborah Marsh
Associate & Collaborative Lawyer

Victoria Walker
Family Law Executive

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