Everything you need to know about cohabitation agreements

Are you unmarried but living with a partner? A cohabitation agreement could help. Here’s everything you need to know.

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A cohabitation agreement can offer you peace of mind if you’re living with your partner but the relationship breaks down. But how does the agreement work, and is it worth signing one? Here’s what you should know.

What is a cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation agreement, or living together agreement, is a legal contract between you and the person you live with. It basically sets out how you plan on sharing finances while you live together. It helps you protect the assets you acquired before moving in together.

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So, you can cover things like:

Basically, it gives you something to fall back on if you split up and you need to divide any joint assets. You may find it easier to have an agreement in place rather than going through the courts. 

What should it include?

While it’s up to you what you include in the agreement, there are some things every cohabitation agreement should cover: 

  • Property you bought before you moved in together (e.g. you can agree to split this or keep it separate) 
  • Any property or assets you acquired as a couple
  • Household bills and expenses

You should also cover who’s responsible for childcare and maintenance costs, especially if one of you has children from a previous relationship. 

Do I have the same rights as a spouse?

No. Cohabiting couples don’t have the same rights as civil partners or spouses. For example, if you’re only cohabiting, you don’t automatically inherit your partner’s estate when they die. 

So, while a cohabitation agreement might give you some rights, it’s not the same as if you’re married or living in a civil partnership.

Is a cohabitation agreement legally binding?

Yes. It’s legally binding if it’s signed and:

  • You both get legal advice before signing the agreement
  • No one feels forced or coerced into signing it
  • It’s drawn up properly by a legal professional
  • You update the agreement to include any major life changes (e.g. children) 

Otherwise, the courts can ignore the agreement and they won’t enforce it. 

What if I’m living in a property my partner owns?

Well, if you don’t own the property, you don’t have any rights to it. So, for example, you’ll usually need to leave if your partner asks. However, that’s where the agreement comes in – your partner can agree to give you rights, or even an ownership interest in the property.  

Am I responsible for my partner’s debts?

Not usually, unless you’re a guarantor or the debt is in joint names. That said, utility companies and the local council can pursue you both for unpaid council tax and utility bills, since you’re both living in the house. Contact Citizens Advice if you’re concerned about this.

Can I change the cohabitation agreement?

Yes. In fact, you should review the agreement regularly and update it if your circumstances change. For example, if one of you becomes seriously ill or unemployed, you should update the agreement to reflect this. 

What happens if we decide to get married?

Well, the agreement usually ends once you’re married, so you have two options: 

  • Rewrite the agreement so it’s still valid.
  • Let the agreement end. You might want to replace it with a prenuptial agreement. 

Get legal advice before making a decision on this. 

Can we end the agreement?

Sure. You can either ask for a termination, or you can both agree to end the contract.

As with anything law-related, get legal advice before you do this.  

What happens if one of us dies?

If you want to ensure your partner inherits your estate if you die, you need to set this out in a will. Otherwise, someone else could inherit the estate. 

Why might this happen? Remember, cohabiting couples don’t have the same rights as married couples or those in civil partnerships.  

How do I write a cohabitation agreement? 

You shouldn’t try to write your own cohabitation agreement. Instead, contact a family law solicitor and ask for help. They’ll ensure you understand what’s involved and help you to protect your best interests. 

So, is a cohabitation agreement right for me?

Maybe.

On the plus side, it can help you reduce legal fees and avoid court costs if you separate. That said, you still won’t have the same rights as a married couple, and you might not feel it’s necessary to have anything in writing. 

The upshot? If you decide to move in with someone, get legal advice and find out what’s best in your particular circumstances.

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