Napthens Partner and Head of Family, Helen Lucking considers the question that couples who co-habit don’t often ask: ‘What happens if we don’t live happily ever after?’ It may not be romantic – but it is an important question

Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK. It has become the norm for couples to live together before they marry and, of course, many couples choose to cohabit long term without getting married.

There is an important consideration however, as cohabiting couples often mistakenly believe they share the same rights as a married couple. In reality a ‘common law’ spouse does not exist. If a couple are not married they do not have legal rights in a relationship unless there is a Statutory Declaration of Trust or a Cohabitation Agreement in place.

Statutory Declaration of Trust
This sets out agreements regarding property ownership. It could include terms such as how the mortgage will be paid. For example, one person pays more because the other provided the deposit.

A Statutory Declaration can also be used to protect a previously owned home which a partner moves into, by either agreeing that the partner does not have an interest in the property, or if they do, to what extent.

It is not uncommon for a couple to receive financial help from family members towards a deposit or perhaps property renovations. If for example, the financial contribution came from one person’s parents, the Statutory Declaration could stipulate that in the event the relationship ends, money is to be paid back to the parents from the proceeds of a future house sale.

Cohabitation Agreement
The Statutory Declaration relates only to the house, but a Cohabitation Agreement can cover a much wider net of important topics – anything from who keeps the car or the dog if the relationship ends, to who is nominated for death in service benefits, through to who will pay the water bill.

Although not the pillow talk of choice, for most cohabiting couples the question of what happens should a relationship end, is a conversation that really should happen.

If the relationship is a long and happy one, then a Cohabitation Agreement can set out some ground rules to prevent future issues and can provide some security. If the relationship does end with an agreement in place, each person knows where they stand and this can avoid difficult discussions.

For further guidance please speak to a specialist family lawyer for advice.

Helen Lucking is a Partner and Head of Family & Divorce at regional law firm Napthens



Tedd Walmsley

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