Cohabitation Agreements for Protection and Certainty
Couples who live together (‘cohabit’) but don’t marry have very few rights, obligations or protections should their relationship end. This can cause real uncertainty, difficulties, and expense if you split up. A cohabitation agreement (also known as cohabitation contract, cohabitation deed or living together agreement) can remove uncertainty by recording the financial and practical arrangements you want to make both during your relationship and in the event of a separation.
A cohabitation agreement can specify the shares in which you own a property and how to deal with any financial contributions either of you make in the future. It can also set out how you will financially support any children, as well as provide for the payment of household expenses, education costs and ownership of personal property (including items such as cars, furniture, house contents or other important personal possessions).
- If you are buying a property with a partner, friend, or family member.
- If you already own a property and your partner, friend or family member is moving in.
- If you are already living together and want to formalise your ownership or other financial arrangements.
- If you are making unequal contributions to a property purchase.
- If you want to provide financial security for each other from your estates upon death.
- If you want to provide financial security for your children or certainty surrounding their education.
A cohabitation agreement will record your legal and beneficial interests in your property and will set out how the property will be dealt with should you separate. For example, will it have to be sold and how will the sale proceeds be divided, or will one of you have the option to buy the other out? Other clauses you may want to include in your agreement:
- What property will remain your separate property and what property is or will become joint property?
- How will gifts made between you be treated or gifts you receive from others?
- How will inheritances or unexpected good fortune be treated?
- Will you open a joint household account or any other joint bank or building society accounts, and if so, how will they be operated?
- What arrangements will you make for any current or future debts?
- How will you deal with the payment of household expenses?
- What arrangements do you want to put in place in the event of a sale?
- Do you want to put in place any financial support for one another during your cohabitation or in the event of it ending?
- Do you want to put in place any financial support for children during your cohabitation or in the event of it ending?
- Do you want to put in place any arrangement for pets during your cohabitation or in the event of it ending?
- Do you want to put in place arrangements in the event of death and nominations for pension and death in service benefits or life insurance?
- What arrangements do you want to put in place to review your agreement?
- What arrangements do you want to put in place if there are replacement or additional homes?
- What events will bring the agreement to an end?
Protection against claims
A cohabitation agreement will clearly declare the legal and beneficial interests in a property and avoid potential claims and costly litigation. The agreement can also record whether there is to be a sale or transfer of the property in the event of a separation and allow you to map out how this will happen. This can avoid disputes and need for costly litigation.
In the absence of fraud, mistake, or undue influence an express declaration of trust in a cohabitation agreement will be conclusive of the beneficial interests in a property. If there is no express declaration the court can be asked to declare what the party’s beneficial interests are. If it is not possible to ascertain the extent of the beneficial interests by direct evidence the court may either ‘infer’ the parties’ shared intentions in relation to the property in the light of their whole course of conduct in relation to it or ‘impute’ an intention. The court will assess the fair share having regard to the whole course of dealing between the parties in relation to the property.
A cohabitation agreement will also reduce the risks of a claim for proprietary estoppel. This arises from the courts’ equitable jurisdiction to ‘adjust’ rights over property if the assertion of strict legal rights is found to be unconscionable. It arises most commonly where a property owner encourages the other party to act to their detriment in the belief that they will obtain an interest in the property.
A cohabitation agreement will enable you to make financial provision for one another or your children in a way that would not be required by law.
Protecting family interests and inheritance
A cohabitation agreement can ensure that the interests of you and your wider family are safeguarded, particularly if family businesses, trusts or inherited assets or family gifts are involved.
Reduces stress and uncertainty
A written agreement clearly setting out what is to happen if you separate will help reduce stress and anxiety at a difficult time in your life.
We combine legal expertise with practical support that focuses on the wellbeing of your family throughout.
Our 2Unify service offers legal expertise alongside relationship coaching. Our qualified coaches will work with you in a safe, non-judgemental way, to explore your wishes and feelings on a range of issues. With the support of a neutral third party, you may find it easier to discuss subjects that could otherwise be uncomfortable, or that you may not have considered.
Mediation and collaborative law
Mediators are trained professionals who can meet with a couple to work through the terms of an agreement. We can support you in the background and once the terms have been agreed help you formalise your agreement. We are also collaboratively trained lawyers and can meet with you and your partner and their registered collaborative lawyer to work through an agreement together.
If you or your family have a close connection to more than one country, you will need advice on which jurisdiction you want to govern your agreement as well as to ensure that in the event of the relationship breaking down you can enforce the terms of your agreement abroad. We work closely with lawyers and other professionals around the world to ensure that your interests are protected, wherever you and your property are based.
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May 16, 2023
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