Cohabiting couples are being urged to draw up living together agreements to decide in advance how their assets should be divided if their relationship breaks down.
The Law Society points out that unmarried cohabiting couples are the fastest growing type of family in the UK. Many of them assume they have the same legal rights as married couples but that is not the case.
In fact, cohabitees have very few automatic legal rights, which means they could lose their home and large sums of money once their relationship ends. For example, one partner may be forced to move out of their home if their name is not on the title deeds, even if they have lived there for many years and helped to pay the mortgage.
The Law Society has offered advice on the kind of areas cohabitation agreements can cover. These include:
· how you pay rent, mortgage or household bills
· finances, for example what happens to joint bank accounts or pensions
· property and assets – owned before or bought while living together
· arrangements for children
· next of kin rights.
Pension access and property title deeds are also important areas to consider alongside a cohabitation agreement.
Each partner should also make a will if they want to make sure they inherit from each other if one of them dies. This could be particularly important for those who are still married to a previous partner but now live with someone else. If you don’t make a will and are still married, your estranged spouse could end up inheriting most of your estate leaving your current partner with nothing or very little.
It is important to consult your solicitor to ensure the cohabitation agreements are properly drawn up.
For an agreement to be valid both partners need to enter into it freely and voluntarily, the agreement needs to be in the form of a deed and each person needs to sign it.
Each partner should get legal advice independently of one another to make sure they understand and are happy with the agreement. It’s also important to keep the cohabitation agreement updated to cover new events such as the birth of a child or the purchase of property.