Cohabitation Agreements – dealing with the fall out
Over the last 20 years, changing social attitudes have led to a shift away from traditional familial relationships towards more informal arrangements. As of November 2017, the unmarried cohabiting couple was the fastest growing type of family in the UK with over 3.3 million cohabiting couples in 2017 in comparison with 1.7 million in 1997 (1). Over a third of cohabiting couples also had dependent children in 2017 (2). Unfortunately, an increasing number of people are taking the decision not to marry without understanding that the relationship between unmarried cohabitants has no legal status in the UK. If the relationship were to break down, there is no body of law upon which the cohabitants can rely for their rights to be protected, unlike when a marriage ends.
The prospect of separation is not necessarily at the forefront of an individual’s mind at the beginning of, and indeed during the relationship and it is therefore rarely contemplated what might happen if the relationship were to end. Sadly, this means that cohabitating individuals are likely to find themselves in a vulnerable position following a break-up, and not just in the emotional sense. Over the course of a relationship, cohabitants may pool their income, combine their wealth and contribute to their shared lifestyle in different ways and proportions. In the event of a break-up, problems can often arise when attempting to divide up and agree who owns what.
A solution to this predicament is available where the cohabitants consider that they may not remain together forever, and decide to put in place a cohabitation agreement. A cohabitation agreement is a signed document which sets out who owns and owes what (and in what proportions) at the time of the agreement, the proposed financial arrangements whilst the parties live together, the financial arrangements for any children involved in the relationship, and how property, assets and income should be divided in the event of a split. Should it ever be necessary, the document may reduce or eliminate the scope for disputes between the individuals or alternatively may serve to aid the timely and cost-effective resolution of any dispute which does arise.
Finances, possessions and property can be delicate discussion topics but it is undoubtedly easier to deal with these issues whilst in a relationship, as compared to dealing with them in the aftermath.
SOURCE 1: Office for National Statistics (www.ons.gov.uk).
SOURCE 2: Office for National Statistics (www.ons.gov.uk).