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Cohabitation agreements

13 March 2019

Unmarried cohabiting families are the fastest growing type of family in the UK. Because unmarried couples have fewer legal rights than married couples, many may now be seeking a cohabitation agreement. This could be a new area for your practice if you don’t currently offer it.

Clients may want an agreement before they move in together or if their circumstances are changing, for example if they’re having children or getting a mortgage. They may not realise this is an option so you may want to mention cohabitation agreements to them. Friends buying a property together could be other potential clients.

An agreement can set out how they share finances while living together or what happens if one of them becomes ill, dies or they split up.

You can talk to your client about why they may need an agreement and explain what their cohabitation rights are without one.

What an agreement can cover

Your clients will need to discuss exactly what they want covered in the agreement. You can advise them on what could be included, such as:

  • how they pay rent, mortgage or household bills
  • finances, for example what happens to joint bank accounts or pensions
  • property and assets – owned before or bought while living together
  • arrangements for children
  • pets
  • next of kin rights.

Pension access, property title deeds and wills are also important areas your client should consider alongside a cohabitation agreement. Refer them to a specialist if these are areas you do not cover. Pensions access often needs to be arranged directly with the provider.

What information you need

Your clients will need to make a list of their finances, including any debts, assets and anything else they want the agreement to cover.

You’ll need to ask your clients for information and relevant documents to support what will be set out in their agreement, for example:

  • proof of assets, like savings, investments, pensions
  • tenancy agreement if renting or title deeds if they own a property
  • proof of any property improvement work, for example receipts for building work
  • proof of their earnings, such as payslips, bank statements
  • birth certificates if they have any children.

Drafting an agreement

For an agreement to be valid:

  • both need to enter into it freely and voluntarily
  • the agreement needs to be in the form of a deed
  • each person needs to sign it
  • it needs to be kept up to date for major life changes.

What happens next

Each person should get legal advice independently of one another to make sure they understand and are happy with the agreement.

Your clients need to sign two copies and keep one each.

Remind your clients to keep the cohabitation agreement updated for changes like children and property.

Wills

Your clients should make a will if they want to make sure they inherit from each other if one of them dies. This could be particularly important for those who are still married to a previous partner but now live with someone else.

Assets outside the UK

If either person has assets that are not in the UK, you may need to draft an agreement that reflects the law where the asset is based.

For example, if one partner owns a house in France you may need the agreement to reflect French property law.

‘Non-romantic’ cohabitation

People who are living together not as a couple may also want a cohabitation agreement. This would work the same way as a cohabitation agreement for a couple.

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