Cohabitation can be viewed as a milestone in the natural progression of a relationship (it is a recognised achievement to find someone that you want to invite into your home or make a new home with). However, many people fail to consider the legal impact that moving in with another person can have (whether you are in a personal relationship with each other or not).
Everything can happen quite quickly with arrangements for cohabitation. Whilst the arrival of a new baby or prospect of marriage often comes with a period of planning and consideration of consequences, cohabitation is often entered into without quite as much contemplation (after all there is no nine month pregnancy, having your Banns read or proclaiming a notice of your intention to live together).
There are a number of practical considerations and concerns you may have when you envisage sharing your home life with another person (do they have any irritating habits, will they get in the way of you watching television and can you suitably split the household chores without arguing). In the face of these matters it is easy to forget to deal with details of your cohabitation and how you intend to deal with the property, bills etc.
Whilst most people do not begin living together anticipating that conflict will arise or the cohabitation end, it can prevent future distress to ensure that both parties are on the same page. Is there an intention to transfer the property into joint names? Will you both be named on the tenancy agreement? How should contents be dealt with on separation? How will bills be paid? What will happen if one of you dies? Whilst many of these answers may appear straightforward or obvious from your perspective, miscommunications between cohabitants can lead to problems down the line.
In addition, there is the common misconception that cohabitants have a large number of legal rights or that the relationship is somehow strictly regulated by the law. In a recent survey of 1,006 cohabiting adults 35% believed that they have the same rights as married couples or didn’t know the position. Many are shocked to learn that cohabitants do not automatically gain the same rights as married couples, having heard the old wives’ tales for many years. The urban myth of the “common law spouse” is unfounded and does not represent the legal position of cohabitants in England and Wales. In addition, many people believe that payments towards household bills automatically provide them with an interest in the property which is almost always not the case.
What is a Cohabitation Agreement?
One option that cohabitants could consider is a Cohabitation Agreement (or Living Together Agreement). This is a legal document which sets out each party’s rights and responsibilities when living together and how matters should be dealt with during the cohabitation and upon separation. It can set out any interests that it is intended that you each have in the property, how contents should be dealt with and what notice needs to be given if the cohabitation is to cease to name but a few – these documents can regulate a vast number of arrangements.
Cohabitation Agreements can also be a useful tool between cohabitants that are not in a romantic relationship. It is increasingly common for people to pool resources in order to live in a desired location or get on the housing ladder and Living Together Agreements are not exclusively for those in “family” situations. Conflicts between people living together can escalate and create uncertainty and distress for both parties, regardless of the dynamic between them and this can frequently be avoided by making it clear at the outset what each person’s rights and responsibilities are.
Living Together Agreements reduce the need for litigation upon separation (and the associated costs and uncertainty that come with going to court), preserve assets and give cohabitants the freedom to regulate matters within their own households. These documents are drafted on the basis of each individual situation, creating flexibility for parties to decide the terms of their cohabitation.
Therefore, in the middle of your growing “to do” list for moving house, you should consider adding “take legal advice and consider a Cohabitation Agreement” for additional peace of mind.