Cohabitation Agreements: How to put it in Writing without Popping the Question


All in all, this February isn't the best month for couples that don't want to marry; in the run up to Valentine's Day we have Marriage Week UK, ran by an organisation that celebrates the institution. We even have 'Leap Day' on the 29th of this month, which some traditions say is the day women should propose to men.

Happy couple

We seem to be forgetting the fact that cohabiting couples are currently the fastest growing family type in the UK. But, with many couples now choosing not to marry, what legal protections are there for cohabiting couples? And should you consider a cohabitation agreement?

Why Don't Couples Want to Marry?

Lots of couples are actively choosing against marriage, one example is Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Seidan, who recently tried – and failed – to have civil partnership made equal for heterosexual couples. Their reasoning for the case is that they disagree with marriage and its connotations as a "patriarchal" institution; not unreasonable when marital rape itself was only banned in 1991.

As Rebecca and Charles's case for equal civil partnership wasn't successful, it's likely that couples like them will decide not to formalise their relationship with marriage.

Do Cohabiting Couples Have any Legal Protections?

Aside from marriage and civil partnerships, the law doesn't formally recognise any other relationship types in England and Wales.

If you are cohabiting and your relationship breaks down, you don't have the same legal security nets in place that married couples or civil partners have; this applies to rights to any property, inheritance, maintenance, or assets. The popular misconception that you have a 'common law' marriage after living together is not true.

This can be shown by the current news that a woman called Joy Williams, aged 69, is set to lose her £355,000 home. She cohabited with her partner of 18 years, who didn't divorce his wife or update his will; meaning his share of the home would now go to his estranged wife. Miss Williams is beginning a High Court battle to have their relationship recognised.

Cohabiting couples do have limited rights in that, if you have dependent children, you can apply for financial provision for the child's benefit. Here, the court can make settlement of property and maintenance orders.

Why Should You Consider a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement, also known as a 'no-nup', lays down how you will share your property and split the care for your children should the relationship break down. A comprehensive cohabitation agreement could provide the legal protections you would lack otherwise.

Carol Chrisfield, Associate Solicitor specialising in Family Law at Simpson Millar's Bristol office, comments:

"A cohabitation agreement could protect you from the upset and distress that is caused when you end a relationship and you're unsure of your legal entitlements, if any. There are also other ways you can safeguard yourself; you could write a will, as cohabitants don't automatically inherit a partner's estate, put in place pension provisions, and clearly define your property rights."

"In the long run, it's hoped that the law in England and Wales will respond and provide more protections for this growing family type, as Scotland have with the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006."

How Simpson Millar Can Help

Whilst a cohabitation agreement might not seem the most romantic idea this Valentine's day, it is one way of securing your rights if don't want to marry or enter a civil partnership.

Our Family Law team at Simpson Millar can advise on any concerns you have about your legal rights and can support you with any provisions you would like to put in place. To speak to an expert about any cohabitation issues, you can call our team on 0808 129 3320.

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