Marriage is not for everyone, and more and more people are now deciding that they would prefer to live together. Many people work on the assumption that they are entering into some form of ‘common law marriage’, in which they will gain the same rights as those who have entered into a marriage or civil partnership.
The concept of a common law marriage does not exist in England and Wales and, in the event that your cohabitation comes to an end, your rights will be governed by matters of property and contract law. By way of example, where in divorce proceedings the courts have a power to adjust property rights, in a cohabitation situation they can only determine who owns a particular property and in what shares on the basis of the parties’ intentions and/or by the contributions made. In a long standing relationship the parties may well have forgotten what they originally intended and any documentation that would help prove the original contributions made by the parties may have long since been lost.
To try and avoid conflict and disagreement, a cohabitation agreement can be drawn up which would set out clearly what will happen to any property and its contents as well as other assets or liabilities so that each party is sure where they stand. The extent of the agreement will depend on the nature of the assets and liabilities of the parties and can also deal with what is to happen in respect of such matters as mortgage payments, contributions to living expenses, pensions, credit cards and the ownership of items of personal property held within the home.
As in the case of prenuptial agreements it is essential that, before a cohabitation agreement is signed, both parties are given the opportunity of taking independent legal advice and there is no duress.
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