Relationships: Cohabitation Agreements
In 2019, the Office of National Statistics found that married or civil partnered remained the most common marital status, accounting for just over half (50.4%) of the population aged 16 years and over in England and Wales; the proportion is slowly declining over time for all ages except those aged 70 years and over.
Around 60% of the population were living in a couple in 2019, the majority of these were married.
Cohabiting is more common among younger age groups; 69.2% of those aged 16 to 29 years who were living in a couple were cohabiting, while only 4.5% of those aged 70 years and over living in a couple were cohabiting.
What is a ‘common law marriage’?
In short, a common law marriage is a myth. Contrary to the popular belief, living together for seven years or more does not give couples the same legal rights or financial entitlements as if they had married.
Cohabiting vs Marriage – The Key Differences:
1. If a partner dies without leaving a will, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything - unless the couple jointly own property. A married partner would inherit all or some of the estate.
2. An unmarried partner who stays at home to care for children cannot make any claims in their own right for property, maintenance or pension-sharing.
3. Cohabiting partners cannot access their partner's bank account if they die - whereas married couples may be allowed to withdraw the balance providing the amount is small.
4. An unmarried couple can separate without going to court, but married couples need to go to a court and get divorced to end the marriage contract formally.
5. Cohabiting couples are not legally obliged to support each other financially, but married partners have a legal duty to support each other.
6. If you are the unmarried partner of a tenant, you have no rights to stay in the accommodation if you are asked to leave - but each married partner has the right to live in the "matrimonial home".
What is a Cohabitation Agreement?
There is no doubt that society has changed and as such, these laws are falling behind the times. It is possible to live with a partner for 20 or more years and have children together yet not have any legal protection of ‘joint assets’ or any financial obligation for the other should the relationship break down.
If the upward trend continues, cohabiting couples may one day soon outnumber those who legally marry. In the meantime, to protect yourself from unexpected financial situations, it is worth considering seeking the advice of a solicitor to draw up a Cohabitation Agreement. This is a legal document that details the entitlements of each partner in the event of a separation.
Other options to consider to ensure a partner has similar financial entitlements to a legal spouse upon the death of the other are making a Will; or taking out a life insurance policy and naming your partner as a beneficiary.
If you’d like to find out about arranging a Cohabitation Agreement with your partner, or would just like to find out where you stand, contact Lawson-West’s Family Team today by calling 0116 212 1000 for our Leicester office or 01858 445 480 for our Market Harborough office. Alternatively Contact Us form and we will contact you directly.