Exploring co-habitation

Family Law

In this article, I explore what co-habitation means and how it can impact your rights when dealing with separation and issues of domestic violence.

Co-habitation is a term used to describe the living arrangements between an unmarried couple. Partners can decide to get married and have additional legal recognition for their status as a couple, or live together without civil marriage. Being unmarried in the UK limits the legal and formal protection for those in the relationship. However, other laws and rights such as parental responsibility and liabilities for debt and finances are unaffected.

Co-habiting couples can create a legally binding relationship by drawing up a contract which sets out certain elements of living together and provide protection and certainty. If you share property, you should have an agreement that clarifies how it will be managed and divided, which is known as a declaration of trust.

How does co-habitation affect my rights when separating?

Your legal rights as a couple can depend on your status i.e. whether you are married or co-habiting. The following core aspects should be considered:

What happens to shared money and property if we co-habit?

  • Housing
    • Co-habiting couples have fewer rights than married ones. If you rent, the named partner on the tenancy agreement can force the other to leave if they are not also named on the agreement. In social housing, the Council or Local Authority will usually require both partners to take out a joint tenancy agreement. Married partners have equal rights to stay in the property and the named tenant can be amended by request or by court order, if needed.
  • Money & debt
    • Your individual money and debts are ordinarily treated separately for co-habitants and for married couples. Joint accounts and joint debts are treated as joint liability, such as tax and mortgages. Individual accounts where no access has been granted to your co-habiting partner will not be accessible automatically by them following separation or death.
    • Possessions that are owned by a co-habiting partner before the relationship will remain the property of that person. Gifts are owned by the receiver but proving this can be difficult. If one partner provides maintenance or contributions to the running of the household, any excess will usually belong to the contributor.
  • Inheritance
    • Cohabiting couples do not automatically have a right to the property and belongings of the deceased partner. A will should be drawn up to allocate responsibility and identify beneficiaries (those who benefit from the estate of the deceased person).
    • Children are automatically legally entitled to inherit from their parents unless other arrangements are made in writing.

Ending the relationship – does a court need to decide the arrangements between us?

  • Ending the relationship
    • Co-habiting couples can agree the terms of ending their relationship and the court can make orders relating to the arrangements for their children.
    • If married, the couple must (if this is wanted) go through the court to divorce (end the legal relationship. The court can make decisions for the couple in relation to finances, children, and the division of assets.
  • Children
    • Arrangements for childcare and access remains the same whether you have been co-habiting or married. Parents should make arrangements to deal with these aspects and can apply for a Child Arrangements Order through the court, if needed.
    • The financial responsibility for your children remains the same whether you have been co-habiting or married. The parent that does not live with the child can be contacted by Child Maintenance Service (CMS) for maintenance payments.

Domestic violence – can I get protection from domestic violence if I am co-habiting?

Domestic violence matters are treated the same irrespective of whether the couple is married or co-habiting.

Cohabitation Agreements

  • What is a co-habitation agreement?

A co-habitation agreement is a document that sets out what will happen if and when your relationship ends. These are useful to provide clarity when you need to deal with money, children, property or any other important aspect of life that changes or is impacted by your separation.

  • What can be included in a co-habitation agreement?

Couples can include almost anything that they want covered for peace of mind such as: financial matters (rent, mortgage payments, bills etc.); property and assets acquired together and before the relationship; childcare and maintenance; inheritance and what happens upon the death of one of the partners; and other items such as pension, savings and shares.

The document should be entered into on a voluntary basis and needs to be signed. Cohabitating agreements should be reviewed periodically and following any substantive change in circumstances. Each partner should retain a signed copy for reference.

  • Legal status of a Cohabitation Agreement

The Cohabitation Agreement is legally binding and can be referenced as part of separation processes and used by the Court to determine the division of assets and the fulfilment of the agreed terms.

If you need assistance with any of the above issues or require support with your separation, please contact Sima directly by calling 02073531746 or via email: clerks@simanajma.com.