Cohabitation Agreements

Mid August is traditionally most popular time of year for weddings in England and Wales. However, according to the Office of National Statisics, the number of people who decide to walk down the aisle continues to fall as more couples chose to live together unmarried.

Family justice organisation Resolution is warning that this modern attitude toward marriage is putting hundreds of thousands of couples at risk if they split.

As wedding season hits its annual peak, thousands opt out of saying ‘I do’ – Resolution

A persistent belief in ‘common-law marriage’ is often at the root of this misunderstanding, with many believing they gain rights similar to married couples after living together for a certain amount of time or having children together.

A recent ComRes survey showed as many as two-thirds of people in cohabiting relationships were unsure of their legal rights if they were to break up. This widespread misunderstanding often prevents at-risk couples from seeking protection.

The common-law marriage myth

In practice, current law does not recognise common-law spouses, limiting what parties are entitled to when the relationship breaks down, particularly in relation to property ownership rights. One party may not be entitled to a share in assets (such as property) even if they have made financial contributions over many years.

For couples who have children together, where one partner has given up work to act as primary carer, the other can walk away from the relationship without having to take any responsibility for a former partner.

This situation can lead to severe financial problems, homelessness and debt. Currently two thirds of children are born to unmarried mothers outside of the traditional marriage model.

Highlighting the issue and raising awareness is the first step towards helping these couples protect their families. Speaking on the issue, Margaret Heathcote, Resolution’s National Chair, said:

“As the numbers of cohabiting couples rise, so do the issues that come up when some of those relationships, sadly, break down. Most people have no idea that they are not automatically entitled to make claims like married couples, which can come as a shock when they have been together for many years. Yet, under the current law, family justice professionals often find themselves unable to help.

Our members have also reported a disproportionate impact on women, as many give up work to become primary carer for children or elderly relatives leaving them with nothing if the relationship ends.”

As well as dispelling the myth of ‘common-law marriage’, Ms Heathcote spoke of the need for cohabiting couples to take steps to protect themselves:

“There are a number of options available, including drawing up a cohabitation agreement. Our members often speak to parents of people who are cohabiting, perhaps because they have contributed towards a deposit on a house and want to protect their investment.

This can be a difficult area of the law, and many commonly held misconceptions about money being ring-fenced, or protected, can be wrong.

If you are worried about these issues, give us a call on 01284 701131 or email law@burnettbarker.co.uk. As members of Resolution, we can help advise you on the best course of action.

Article Source: Resolution