Cohabitation: How best to protect yourself?
Cohabitees are usually unmarried couples that live together, and the number of couples choosing to cohabit either before marriage or as an alternative to marriage in England and Wales has increased considerably over recent years.
Despite the increasing popularity, many couples who choose to cohabit are unaware of the possible risks involved and rely on the myth of the ‘Common law marriage’ where it is wrongly believed that cohabitees will enjoy the same legal rights as married couples. This is not the case.
Sadly, if the relationship breaks down, disputes as to the ownership of the property often arise. In particular, if the property is in one party’s sole name, it can be difficult to prove an interest in the property where that cohabitee is not the legal owner and has not contributed to the mortgage. When looking at such disputes, the court will consider the parties’ intentions when the property was purchased and the common agreement between the parties as to their respective interests.
To avoid a dispute in the event of a relationship breakdown, you could consider entering into a Cohabitation Agreement to set out what will happen if the relationship ultimately fails. Although Cohabitation Agreements are not legally binding, they act as persuasive evidence in the event of a legal dispute as to what the parties’ intentions were when they purchased the property.
Secondly, when buying a property in which you are to live together you should always consider entering into a Deed of Trust at the time of purchase to make sure that both parties’ respective contributions and interests in the property are clearly recorded from the start and to set out what will happen to the property in the event that the relationship breaks down..
Our Family Law team can assist with drafting a Cohabitation Agreement and the document can be as flexible or prescriptive as you would like. Further, our Property team is able to put in place a Deed of Trust from the moment the property is purchased.
If, unfortunately, it is too little too late and a dispute has already arisen, please take advice from our Litigation team about your rights and possible interest in the Property before agreeing to a resolution.
For Family Law advice and help in drafting a Cohabitation Agreement, please contact Carey Vigor or Natalie Nero.