A Cohabitation Agreement is effectively a legal agreement that can be put in place between parties who live together but are not married or in a civil partnership setting out how you both own the property you live in.

Couples who live together often believe that they have some form of legal status of protection. Unfortunately, this is wrong. There is no such thing as a "common law" husband or wife, this is the same where same-sex couples are concerned.

The reality is that cohabitants who have not entered into a legally-recognised relationship, either marriage or Civil Partnership – may have very few rights when it comes to separation. It makes no difference that they may have lived together for many years. They will still not be entitled to the same protections that spouses and Civil Partners enjoy which can often seem very unfair.

Whilst it may not be the most romantic start to a relationship a Cohabitation Agreement could be an essential part of preparing for a modern relationship. The agreement is designed to give protection for both parties in the event that things do not work out as intended, or if your partner suddenly passes away.

What goes into a cohabitation agreement?

The document is effectively an agreement which will regulate the terms upon which you will both live together and what will happen in the event that your relationship should end. The document will be signed by both parties in front of witnesses and it will generally deal with three separate areas:

  1. Who owns (and owes) what at the time of the agreement, and in what proportions,
  2. What financial arrangements you have decided to make whilst living together, i.e whether you will open a joint bank account, who will pay what bills, who will pay the mortgage, etc, and
  3. How property, assets, and income should be divided if you separate.

It is usual for both parties to receive separate legal advice to ensure that the document and agreement is fair and reasonable to ensure that the Court uphold the document in the event of a dispute. It may also be beneficial for the agreement to include provisions for future events such as discussing the needs of any future children, but this is not essential.

As well as preparing the agreement it would also be sensible to make a Will so that should you die whilst living with someone, your wishes can be put into effect. Whilst it is possible in some circumstances for a cohabitant to inherit, there are no strict rules about what should happen.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.