Today marks the start of Cohabitation Awareness Week (27 November – 1 December), a campaign led by the family justice organisation Resolution which is calling for greater legal protections for cohabiting couples.
Julia Cluley, a Setfords consultant solicitor and specialist in family law, has lent her support to the campaign and offered some essential advice for couples living together.
Cohabiting couples – those living together but unmarried – are the fastest growing family type in the UK, with more than six million people living in these sort of relationships, representing 17% of all families.
Under the current law it’s possible to live with someone for decades – even to have children together – and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility for the partner or children left behind. This can have a huge impact, especially on women and children, and particularly in cases where a mother has given up or reduced her work to raise a family.
Despite the commonly held myth, there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’ and cohabiting couples have little or no legal protection should they separate. Similarly, there is also a pervading misunderstanding that after two years’ cohabitation the couple share assets equally, but this too is a complete myth.
I regularly work with cohabiting couples whose relationships have sadly broken down. In Resolution’s recent survey of family lawyers 98% reported having worked with a cohabiting couple who they were unable to help due to a lack of legal protection.
As such, family law colleagues and I are joining with Resolution to call for better protections for cohabiting couples under the law, and to raise awareness among couples of their rights.
Until the law changes, cohabiting couples need to be aware of their lack of rights, and consider taking measures to protect themselves in case their relationship breaks down. One such measure is a cohabitation agreement, a document that sets out what will happen to finances and property if the worst happens.
Advice for cohabiting couples:
- Know your rights and seek legal advice.
- If you are considering living together you should seek legal advice before moving in. This is especially important where home ownership or children are concerned.
- Document your intentions from the start – put yourself in a place of security regarding finances and property by drawing up an agreement with your partner.
- Consider taking out life insurance and making a will.
- Review any cohabitation agreement every five years, or on any important event such as the birth of a child or buying, remortgaging or selling the family home.
- Spread the word – inform people you know who are in this situation so they can protect themselves.
Secure your future, whatever it may hold
We all want our relationships to succeed, and there are few who make the decision to live with a partner with the belief that it won’t last. However, too often consideration of the consequences of breaking up are only made once that process is underway.
The best advice is to find out about your rights now, and take steps to ensure you are in the best possible position, whatever the future may hold.
Get in touch to find out more about our nationwide team of family lawyers and how they can help. We offer a free initial consultation with a specialist adviser who will discuss your individual circumstances, and offer guidance on the kinds of tailored support we can offer you.