Do you live with your partner? Are you unmarried? Family partner Sarah Anticoni and associate Emily Borrowdale explain what happens if it all ends in tears.
Cohabiting couples account for 16.4% of families today (that’s nearly three million people) and are the fastest growing family type in the UK, as more and more people shirk traditional notions of marriage. Despite this, there has been little development in the law to assist a cohabitee in the event of relationship breakdown. If you have bought property together, who owns what? How do you structure your mortgage repayments? Do you have a joint bank account to deal with utilities, and if so how much do you each contribute to that and when? How do you split it if you break up?
Emily points out that there is no such thing as the common-law spouse, despite 51% of the population thinking the contrary. More and more people are signing cohabitation agreements to define the financial parameters of their relationship, and to determine how they split their assets in the event of their relationship ending.
Sarah looks at cohabitation agreements which deals with land, property and financial assets, but can also include ‘softer’ terms such as defining contributions to household chores. Cohabitees need to be careful when thinking about including these softer terms as they can result in uncertainty about the parties’ intentions for the document to be legally binding. Each party needs to receive independent legal advice on the terms of the agreement, and understand the implication of forming a legally binding contract with their partner.
There are some limitations that extend beyond the power of a cohabitation agreement. Cohabitees do not benefit from the same tax legislation as married couples, and inheritance tax will be applicable if they leave their estate to a partner on death. It is always advised that parties draw up a Will and, if buying a property together, enter into a Declaration of Trust to record their distinctive shares, regardless of a cohabitation agreement.
Cohabitation agreements are extremely helpful documents for couples (or friends!) who want to formalise their current financial arrangements and put in place preventative measures to avoid potential arguments at a later stage.