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In the modern era it is becoming more and more common for couples to decide to cohabitate rather than seek to formalise their relationship through marriage. It is a common held view that this results in less complications should the relationship fail and that it is easier to decide to separate from your partner when the stigma of divorce is not involved.
In these circumstances however it is important to consider the law in this situation and your rights as a cohabitee, as compared to that of a married couple.
The definition of being a cohabiting couple is broad; it usually and simply refers to parties who live together but haven’t entered into a civil partnership or marriage. It is often thought as being the period prior to marriage, but more frequently one is no longer leading to the other. As such, cohabiting couples wishing to separate have become a greater feature of separation law for lawyers.
Parties who are cohabiting have fewer rights and duties owing to one another than parties who have married. It is possible to agree a position as a cohabiting couple, much in the same way as parties may consider a pre-nuptial agreement prior to marrying. Whilst this would not be a legal contract and wouldn’t bind any subsequent Court proceedings, it can act as a guide; again in the same way as a pre-nuptial agreement would. Our family law team can assist cohabiting parties for example prior to purchasing a property together in such circumstances.
Even with a cohabitation agreement in place should parties separate, dividing assets is more complicated than through ancillary relief proceedings associated with divorce. A parties’ assets such as pensions, investment properties or inheritance will not automatically be assumed into any settlement discussions to separate financially. It is therefore important to consider at the outset what works for you and your partner and in the worst case scenario whether your situation means you will be adequately protected.
Ending a cohabitation arrangement can also exclude any claim for spousal maintenance that would have been applicable on divorce.
For all of these reasons knowing your rights before entering into any formal arrangement with a partner can help better inform you and better equip you for the future.
At Cleaver Fulton Rankin we recognise that in any situation where parties are separating there is the opportunity to negotiate, and we utilise these opportunities in order to achieve the best results for our clients, regardless of whether that is through marriage or cohabitation. As Solicitors, it is our job to help you through the legal process as best we can. We believe that having access early on in the process to good information and resources is a key factor in how well you and your children will be able to manage in this transition.
It is also worth remembering that you can secure the future of your partner whether through marriage or cohabitation by having a Will in place to ensure your partner is cared for in the event of your death.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Please contact our Family & Matrimonial Team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.