Despite the fact that the law in England and Wales does not give automatic legal rights to people who live together, many couples live together without realising that they do not have the same rights or protection as if they were married.
Many cohabiting couples are now opting to sign cohabitation agreements which are also known as ‘living together agreements.’ This means that if their relationship breaks down, there is a legal document in place which clearly states who owns what and how assets and responsibilities are to be shared.
Living together agreements are similar to ‘pre-nups’ which are agreements made between two people before they marry. These documents clarify property ownership; other valuable items can also be included such as cars or furniture and living together agreements are often used in cases where one person in the relationship has something particularly valuable.
Living together agreements can be used to cover many different areas and can be tailor-made to suit individual cases. Agreements can cover who owns what proportion of a shared property and other shared assets, whilst also defining individual responsibilities in relation to living expenses, bills etc.
The law treats cohabiting couples as two separate individuals and, despite what many people believe, there is no such thing as a common law spouse. Even in cases where couples have lived together for many years and have brought up children together, they still don’t have the same legal rights as married couples.
A living together agreement is one way to prevent problems. However if a living together agreement is to be recognised by the courts, it must have been drawn up properly, comply with contract law and each part must have received independent legal advice.