February is viewed by many as the month of love, bringing with it the opportunity for couples to celebrate their relationships by exchanging gifts, giving flowers, and enjoying a romantic meal together.

However, while perhaps not as traditional a Valentine’s gift as a box of chocolates, couples living together could do far worse than consider entering into a cohabitation agreement to cement their relationships.

The number of cohabitating couples has increased exponentially over recent years. According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), cohabiting couple families accounted for almost one in five families in the UK in 2022, with ‘opposite-sex cohabiting couple’ being the fastest-growing family type over the last ten years.

But the law has failed to keep pace with such change. The ‘common-law partner’ myth has long been debunked, and in England and Wales, couples who live together have little legal protection when they separate.

Campaigners are calling for reform. At the end of last year, family law group Resolution marked its 40th anniversary by unveiling its ‘Vision for Family Justice’ that highlights issues in the family justice system in England and Wales and sets out its suggestions for reform.

Central to its proposals are calls to update the laws relating to cohabiting partners on separation.

However, as things stand, the best way for cohabiting couples to protect themselves legally, if the relationship breaks down, is by getting a cohabitation agreement.

What is a cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is a written legal agreement between cohabiting couples that sets out arrangements for finances, property and children while you live together and if you split up, become ill or die.

What is included in a cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation agreement states who owns what and in what proportion. It can cover various obligations and issues, including:

  • Any existing property. For example, if one cohabitee owns an existing property, you might decide that the other partner should not have a claim over it if your relationship ends.
  • Shared property. A cohabitation agreement can specify what happens to any jointly owned property if you separate.
  • Deposit on your home. If one of you puts in a larger deposit, or pays more of the mortgage, a cohabitation agreement can include a clause that states they get back a larger share if you sell.
  • Child responsibility and access.
  • Child maintenance or financial agreements.
  • Wills and inheritance.
  • Bank accounts and money.
  • Pensions. Cohabiting couples don’t have any automatic right to their former partner’s pension.
  • What happens to any outstanding debts.
  • Information about other jointly owned assets, such as jewellery, cars or pets.

Cohabitation agreements are not one-size-fits-all and should be tailored to you and your partner’s circumstances.

Seeking the advice of a family law solicitor with experience in cohabitation agreements is crucial. A legal professional will ensure the agreement has been drawn up accurately, avoiding any future disputes by reaching a mutually agreeable solution now.

Larcomes’ family solicitors have vast experience drafting cohabitation agreements to protect our clients’ best interests.

For a free, no obligation and confidential discussion, speak to one of our cohabitation lawyers. Call Sandra Philips on 023 9244 8107 for our Portsmouth office or Adrian Silk on 023 9244 8106 for our Waterlooville office or make an online enquiry.

Who needs a cohabitation agreement?

Unmarried couples who are living together should make a cohabitation agreement. Both same-sex and heterosexual couples can make a cohabitation agreement, which can be reviewed and updated as often as required.

Cohabitation agreements can also be made between people who are living together but not in a romantic relationship, such as flatmates or siblings. They can be used to divide up bills and other responsibilities while you are cohabiting.

What are the benefits of a cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation agreement provides unmarried couples with invaluable protection if the relationship breaks down.

Under current law, it is possible to live with someone for decades and to have children together, but then simply walk away with the economically stronger party taking no financial responsibility for a former partner when the relationship ends.

This can create hardship, particularly in cases where a mother has given up or reduced her working hours to raise a family.

A cohabitation agreement allows you to ensure you fully understand your own and your partner’s financial commitments while you are living together by providing full disclosure of your rights and responsibilities.

Should the relationship end, and you and your partner separate, a cohabitation agreement can help avoid disagreements and prevent difficulties by setting out exactly who is entitled to what.

When should we make a cohabitation agreement?

Ideally, couples should make a cohabitation agreement before moving in together. However, you can make an agreement at any time while cohabiting and will benefit from the protection it provides as soon as it has been created.

Are cohabitation agreements legally binding?

Cohabitation agreements are legally binding if drafted and executed properly, and you have both been honest about your assets.

What happens to a cohabitation agreement if we get married?

Marriage or civil partnership does not automatically revoke a cohabitation agreement.

However, if you decide to get married, or become civil partners, it would be better to revise the agreement to specify what should happen if the marriage or civil partnership ends.

Alternatively, you could allow the cohabitation agreement to end and make a prenuptial agreement.

Cohabitation Agreement Solicitors Portsmouth

Cohabiting couples do not have as much legal protection in England and Wales as those couples who are married or in a civil partnership, and complications can arise should the relationship break down.

Cohabitation agreements give unmarried couples valuable protection.

At Larcomes, our experienced family law team can guide you and your partner through what is involved in making a watertight cohabitation agreement to ensure it protects your interests and is tailored to your needs.

If, however, you are already in dispute with an ex-partner and you do not have a cohabitation agreement in place, we can provide expert legal advice on the options available to you, including mediation and litigation services.

For a free, no-obligation, and confidential discussion, call us on 023 9244 8100 or make an online enquiry.

For more information about Larcomes’ family law team, click here.

Please note that this article is not intended as legal or professional advice. It is for general guidance only, and updates to the law may have changed since it was published.