Cohabiting: Marriage, Money, Myths and Mistakes

by | Dec 7 2020 | Family Law, Featured, Popular

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Kitty Leask LGBT Lawyers
By Kitty Leask
Kitty is the latest addition to LGBT Lawyers' team. A member of the LGBT community herself, Kitty dedicates her time to promoting the LGBT fight for equality and is here to help all of our clients find the right lawyer to support their case.

Cohabiting | Read Time 5-7 Minutes. 

Cohabiting couples are the most rapidly growing family model in the UK.

The 21st Century saw the creation of many new and progressive family models. The traditional concept of “family” now includes the multitude of different family types that we have. From same-sex marriage to civil partnerships, surrogacy to adoption, we now have the luxury of choosing how we want our family to grow.

Cohabiting couples are now the most rapidly growing family model in the UK. For the LGBT community, in particular, cohabiting is extremely popular. Cohabitation is quickly catching up with marriage and civil partnerships. Cohabitation formally refers to someone with who you live, with whom you are not married. It is also not limited to a romantic relationship; it can refer to a relationship or partnership with a friend or family member.

Deciding to enter into a cohabiting relationship shouldn’t be complicated. But it’s essential to understand how different cohabiting rights are to marriage rights. It’s necessary to prepare for the future, should the relationship break further down the line.

“We need to recognise the changing face of modern British families and how this impacts the estate planning process. Unfortunately, the legal rights for cohabiting couples, those in civil partnerships and unmarried parents of children are not the same as they are for married couples, despite many believing that they are the same.”
A family in a cohabiting relationship
“the changing face of modern britain”

Why is cohabiting so popular among modern families? The positives and benefits of cohabiting are so massive and are worth considering. From financial services to personal freedom, cohabiting can provide new families with modern flexibility that marriage may not.

A cohabiting relationship may be more cost-effective in the long run

Cohabiting relationships are typically much cheaper than marriages. A cohabitation agreement will cost you less and is effective for the future. Creating a cohabiting agreement will be able to outline your finances. It can also cover any maintenance costs to property and any outgoing expenses for childcare.

A cohabiting relationship can make life easier and more flexible for couples

 There may be more flexibility on specific issues when you cohabit. Your cohabitation agreement caters to your and your partner’s needs rather than the generic needs of marriage. This can reduce conflict when living together because an agreement can lay out exactly who is responsible for what.

If you split up, the process can be easier

If a cohabiting relationship ends, there are fewer intricate and complex regulations compared to a divorce. A divorce can be difficult and costly, especially when it comes to dividing estates and organising childcare.

Cohabiting is a fantastic option for the LGBT communit

It is a hugely popular option for the LGBT community because it provides couples with an alternative choice to marriage. Cohabitation moves on from the traditionalism of marriage and gives people a more personal option for their relationship.

You don't have to be in a relationship to cohabit with someone.

Cohabiting is also a beneficial option for people who want to live with friends or family members.

Cohabiting: The myths and the truth

The love and relationships between a married couple and a cohabiting couple may be the same. But the legal areas that surround a marriage are far more direct than those of a cohabiting couple.

The law protects married couples in areas such as finances, estates and children. However, legally, cohabiting couples may find it much harder to have their rights and responsibilities outlined.

“Despite the trend towards cohabiting families, the law does not afford the same protection to cohabitees as it offers to married couples. There is a lack of information in this respect available to the public to ensure they are aware of their legal position.”
You should know:

Your legal rights as a cohabiting couple are significantly less than those in a marriage or civil partnership.

1. “Common law spouses” are a total myth. The most significant myth about cohabiting is that when you live with someone in a cohabitation agreement, you become “common-law spouses.” It is the belief that if you cohabit for 5 years or more, then you are entitled to the same rights as a married couple. This is not true. It is a widespread misconception, with 48% of reported cohabiting couples in 2019 stating that they believed in common law spouses.

2. You cannot split property equally unless previously agreed. Complex legal issues can arise when trying to divide your property estate in the relationship ending. You are not legally entitled to any of the property unless agreed in your cohabitation agreement. The ownership of property for couples in a cohabiting relationship can be confusing, and trying to resolve it can be lengthy and costly.

3. Intestacy regulations don’t cover cohabiting couples. If one partner dies without leaving a will, your cohabiting partner will not automatically inherit their part of your estate if you pass.

4. You have no legal right to claim finances. Like with property, because you are not in a legally binding relationship, you are not entitled to any part of your partners’ finances, even if they are a high earner in the event of separation. The complexity and regulations with property and finances are also applicable to child care and child support.

I’m cohabiting: how can i protect myself and my family?

two women in a cohabiting couple
“Love just isn’t enough. Cohabiting couples stand to lose it all if the worst happens. You could be left with nothing.”

A cohabitation agreement is easily the safest and cheapest option for any couple, romantic or not, who choose to enter a cohabiting relationship.

A cohabitation agreement is essentially like a prenuptial agreement but without the marital elements. It is simply a legal document that sets out how to deal with combined assets in the event of a relationship breakdown. It also sets out what each parties responsibilities are during the relationship, in areas such as finance, property and childcare.

Cohabitation agreements are legally binding once a lawyer drafts them. They provide certainty on any issues and save both parties time and money further down the line and save you from stressful and lengthy court proceedings.

A cohabitation agreement can also establish what will happen in the future for any child issues. If you draw up a cohabitation agreement, you can lay out what will happen in terms of child responsibilities and child maintenance in the event of a breakup.

the future for cohabiting

The Cohabitation Rights Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords on March 15 2019.

This bill is the most progression that cohabitation has in its fight for rights and recognition. The bill is awaiting further comment and is on hold because of the pandemic. 

The Cohabitation Rights Bill intends to protect financially disadvantaged cohabitants in the event of the death of a partner or the dissolution of a cohabiting relationship. The bill aims to improve the legislation that surrounds cohabiting relationships as well as the individuals within them.

“The existing law is uncertain and expensive to apply and, because it is for cohabitants, often gives rise to results that are unjust.”

Why use a lawyer for your COHABITING agreement?

A lawyer can help before or during your cohabiting relationship.

They can draw up documents such as a declaration of trust or a cohabitation agreement. This can detail such things as shares in a property, who needs to pay for what and who is responsible for any debt.

Communication in a cohabiting relationship is key. Having a conversation between yourself and a lawyer to lay out all of the necessary information of your cohabitation agreement is essential for future communications.

The process of creating a cohabitation agreement with your partner and your lawyer can save you a world of hassle and stress if issues arise in the future.

An experienced cohabitation lawyer can also help you with areas such as:

  • Cohabitation disputes
  • Property ownership
  • Declarations of trust
  • Beneficial ownership
  • Child care and child maintenance
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