It is essential that unmarried cohabiting couples have a cohabitation agreement in place, otherwise should they separate then one of them could be left with nothing.
The 'common-law' myth
There is no such thing in law as a 'common-law spouse' despite around one in four couples living together thinking there is. The harsh reality is that if an unmarried couple separate there is no legal right for either party to receive maintenance or a share of assets.
Don't assume that if you have contributed to a mortgage you have an automatic right to a share of the property, you don't. Also, if a cohabiting couple jointly own a property then legally the house would be split 50:50 regardless of whether one party contributed more to the initial purchase. By contrast, if a married couple separate, under marital law the courts have discretion to decide on a fair division of assets.
However, couples can protect themselves in the event of a relationship break up by establishing a cohabitation agreement, which is particularly important when children are involved.
What is a cohabitation agreement
A cohabitation agreement is a legal document which sets out who owns what and in what proportions and how assets will be split in the event of the couple splitting. Where there are children involved it can also stipulate how they will be supported beyond the legal maintenance. It can also set out how day to day finances are managed while a couple is cohabiting.
How much does a cohabitation agreement cost?
To ensure that the agreement stands up to legal scrutiny then each party to the relationship should seek independent legal advice which is not cheap. As a ball park figure you would probably be looking at at least £2,000. Of course there are a number of online resources which will 'offer off the shelf' cohabitation agreements for around £20 but you are taking the risk that they may not be legally watertight.
(image by Ambro, freedigitalphotos.net)