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Living together but not married – what rights do you have?

Published on 6 September 2021 | Modified on 16 January 2023

Written by Lana Jones

Divorce & Family

One of the biggest steps any relationship can take, is the decision to move in together. This can be an exciting time for a couple who look forward to cohabiting, however, many fail to put in place precautions and plans for their combined assets should the relationship break down.

One of the biggest reasons for this failure to plan ahead is the common misconception that couples that are living together hold the same or similar legal rights to married couples. In fact, research carried out by Resolution found that 60% of couples believed they had the same protection as a married couple if they were to split up.

Sadly, the concept of a ‘common law’ marriage does not exist in law, and therefore should a split occur and no agreement is in place, there is little in the way of legal protection that can be done (even if you have children).

Of course, no couple moving in together will want to consider the possibility of a break up, but it is good practice to have things in place to make the division of property, finances and childcare fair for both parties should this happen. It can also help to regulate how a couple intend to co-habit together, such as how the day-to-day finances will be managed. So, what are your options from a legal standpoint when living together? We take a look below:

Declaration of trust

This legal agreement applies to property that is owned by a couple as ‘tenants in common’. It will identify what share of the property each will own and can set out how much each owner would receive from a sale in the future. This declaration is of particular importance where the parties have made unequal contributions to the purchase of the property and want to ensure that this is recognised in the event of a separation in the future.

Cohabitation agreement

A cohabitation agreement is a legal document drawn up between an unmarried couple who live together. It can encompass a wide variety of arrangements for dealing with property, finances and children, both whilst a couple are living together and in the event that they separate in the future, including:

  • The bills each person will pay
  • Support for a partner who leaves work to care for a child
  • Child arrangements in the event of a split
  • Child support that each parent will provide, above and beyond any legal requirements
  • How any liabilities will be dealt with
  • Considerations for pets
  • How any vehicles or other belongings will be dealt with
  • How the property and any equity will be divided, including who will live in the property and pay the bills
  • Agreements regarding Life insurance

An agreement of this kind can be entirely unique to the couple, but in order to give the agreement as much weight as possible it should meet certain criteria and therefore it is highly recommended that a couple seek advice from a qualified family solicitor when compiling a cohabitation agreement.

It is not something anyone would like to think of, especially when in those wonderful first days of living together, however ultimately ensuring you a legally protected in the event of a breakup is hugely important. If you would like advice or guidance in this area, please contact the brilliant team at Poole Alcock Family Law today.

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