Cohabitation Awareness Week: November 27 – December 1

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Cohabitation Awareness Week has been launched by Resolution, the Association which represents and promotes the interests of Family Lawyers in England and Wales.

Cohabitation Awareness Week is being promoted because of the serious lack of understanding about the rights of couples who live together in England and Wales. This is leading to people entering into cohabitations without a full understanding of their rights and responsibilities, but also regarding how the law may operate. Many people in cohabiting relationships still think that they have the rights of a common law marriage, when in fact common law marriage has ceased to exist in England and Wales since 1753.

Why is this so important?

In 2016, the Office for National Statistics confirmed that 3.3 million people in England and Wales were in heterosexual cohabiting relationships, a figure which has more than doubled over the last 20 years, and accounted for some 17% of all families in the UK. Live together couples equate to more than 48% of family breakdown situations.

Resolution want to promote the view that people should think very carefully about their rights and responsibilities prior to entering into a cohabitation, and during the course of the relationship as circumstances change, develop and children may be born.

Ashtons Legal think it is important that:

  1. A couple consider entering into a Cohabitation Agreement before they cohabitate. Providing the agreement is properly entered into both parties take advice, give full financial disclosure, and are legally competent. The Cohabitation Agreement will have legal standing and potentially prevent argument or discord if the couple break up.
  2. Entering into a Cohabitation Agreement prevents a lack of clarity as to what each of the people intend to happen in respect of property they own prior to cohabitation. It allows each person to specify what they want to happen with their property before they cohabit, so that each party is aware what property they will retain as their own free of claim from the other, and what property they intend to share.
  3. If a cohabiting couple do not have a Cohabitation Agreement beforehand, what happens to the belongings the couple acquires by purchase, gift or other means? Do they share it? Keep it? Cohabitation Agreements allow the couple to specify what happens to those assets right from the start.
  4. If you do live together you should do so knowing there is no such thing as a common law marriage, therefore you have no automatic rights just by virtue of living together. Common law marriage ceased to exist in English law in 1753 and it has not be replaced by any like provision. However, huge numbers of people still think that they have the same rights as a married couple or simply don’t know. That percentage had been put at 35% in a recent YouGov poll. You do not get the protection married people have with finance and property matters should the relationship breakdown.
  5. If property is purchased during a cohabitation in the name of one of the couple, the other member does not necessarily have any rights to that property even if it is their family home. The couple should agree how they should deal with the ownership of that property before they purchase it.
  6. Unless you have a Cohabitation Agreement, you do not get the certainty of choosing who gets what if the relationship breaks down. If you do not agree you often get in a complete muddle and may enter a dispute.
  7. If the live together couple have children, a Cohabitation Agreement allows the parties to specify what the intention is regarding the care of the children, if they split up.
  8. A Cohabitation Agreement also allows the couple to consider how to finance care of any children.
  9. In a Cohabitation Agreement, the parties can consider what happens in the event of death of one of the couple. If the couple remain together for a period of two years, then the remaining party does have a right to claim against the estate of the deceased, but an agreement will allow them to specify what exactly they want to happen and gives the incentive to make a Will. If this is not done, and one of the parties dies within two years of the couple living together, the survivor has no right to make a claim against the deceased’s estate in the absence of a Will, and the rules of intestacy do not assist a cohabiting couple.
  10. What about tax? A Cohabitation Agreement will allow the parties to think about the assets they have got and any tax consequences of transferring assets between them. The situation of transfers between often has very different tax consequences to if they were a married couple.

Resolution hope that Cohabitation Awareness Week will raise the profile of issues relating to cohabitation that people are uncertain of, or simply have no knowledge of, so that people can be better advised and know what protection they can put in place. Honesty and a desire to be practical can help settle an agreement about finances from the very beginning.


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