Cohabiting: Marriage, Money and Myths

by | Dec 7 2020 | Family Law

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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 has seen the creation of many new and progressive family models. The traditional concept of “family” has been shaped to fit the different family types that we now 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 partnership. 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.

Making the decision to enter into a cohabiting relationship shouldn’t have to be complicated. But it’s important to understand how different cohabiting rights are to marriage rights. It’s important to be prepared 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.”

“the changing face of modern britain”
A family in a cohabiting relationship


Why is cohabiting so popular among modern families? The positives and benefits of cohabiting are so huge and are definitely worth considering. From financial benefits 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. Weddings and divorces can cost couples thousands. However, a cohabitation agreement will cost you less, and is effective in 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 certain issues when you cohabit. Your cohabitation agreement is drafted specifically to cater for the needs of you and your partner, rather than the generic needs of a 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 less intricate and complex regulations than there are involved in a divorce. A divorce can be complex and costly, especially when it comes to dividing estates and organising childcare.

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

You don’t have to be in a relationship to cohabit with someone.  Cohabiting is also a really beneficial option for people who want to live with with a friend or family member. 


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.

Married couples are protected by the law when it comes to areas such as finances, estate 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.

“Common law spouses” are a total myth. The largest 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 have been in a cohabiting relationship for 5 years or more, then you are entitled to the same rights as a married couple. This, however, is not true. It is a really common misconception, with 48% of reported cohabiting couples in 2019 stating that they believed in common law spouses.

Property cannot be split equally unless previously agreed. Complex legal issues can arise when trying to split your property estate in the event of the relationship ending. You are not legally entitled to any of the property unless you have previously agreed this 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.

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.

You have no legal right to claim finances. Like with property, because you are not in a legally binding relationship, in the event of separation you are not entitled to any part of your partners finances, even if they are a high earner. The complexity and regulations with property and finances is 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 combined assets will be dealt with in the event of a relationship breakdown. It also sets out what each parties responsibilities are during the relationship, in the main ares such as finance, property and childcare.

Cohabitation agreements are legally binding once they’ve been drafted by a lawyer. They provide certainty on any issues that you feel need clarity or discussion and can save both parties time and money further down the line, and can 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 break up.


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 made in its fight for rights and recognition in years. Sadly, the bill has not been re-considered since the pandemic and any further action is yet to come.

The Cohabitation Rights Bill is intended 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 legislations that surround cohabiting relationships as well as the individuals within them.

The most support that cohabiting couples can get until further legislations are passed is undoubtedly a cohabitation agreement. An agreement will provide you secuirty in your decision.

“The existing law is uncertain and expensive to apply and, because it was not designed 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 by drawing up documents, such as a declaration of trust or a cohabitation agreement, to detail such things as shares in a property, who needs to pay for what and who is responsible for any debt.

Communication is a cohabiting relationship is key. Having a conversation between yourselves and with a lawyer to lay out all of the necessary information of you 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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