Cohabitation: On the rise, but the myths still exist…

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Cohabitation: On the rise, but the myths still exist...

21 Jul 2014

Various publications have been reporting recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) findings that suggest that around half of today’s twenty year olds will never marry, instead choosing to cohabit. Here, Kuits’ family solicitor Maddy Hailey tells you what you need to know about cohabitation.

The recently reported ONS statistics into living arrangements and marital status paint a not altogether surprising picture. Marriage rates have been declining since the 1970s, while divorce rates have been declining since the 1990s. All the figures point towards a decline in marriage generally, an increase in the average age at which people choose to marry and an increase in couples choosing to cohabit, rather than to wed.

According to these figures, Manchester is populated with the 5th lowest proportion of married people in England and Wales – potentially due in part to the large student population.  An increasing number of the population are, however, cohabiting, with 5.3 million of the adult household population in England and Wales now living in a cohabiting couple.

Cohabitation – the myth

Cohabitation is an arrangement whereby a couple live together as one household, but are not married or in a civil partnership.  An unfortunately not uncommon myth in family law is that couples who cohabit for a long period of time, and particularly those with children, acquire rights equivalent to those of a married couple by virtue of a “common law marriage”.

“This is categorically not the case,” says Maddy, who goes on to explain: “A marriage is, in essence, a financial contract whereby the parties to the marriage have claims against each other for income, property, capital, pension and maintenance.  Couples who cohabit do not have the same automatic entitlement.

“In order to establish that assets should be divided other than in accordance with their strict ownership, cohabiting couples must undertake the painstaking and often fruitless task of establishing the intention to create a beneficial interest.  Cohabitation disputes are often far more costly and complex than disputes on divorce, and involve the complex law surrounding trusts of land.”

Protection for Cohabiting Couples

Many people consider that the law surrounding cohabitation is unfair. However, family law experts at Kuits suggest that as long as cohabiting parties go in with their eyes open, all is not lost.

“Cohabiting couples can resolve any issues before they even arise by entering into a Cohabitation Agreement,” says Maddy.

“A Cohabitation Agreement is a contract that records arrangements between people who have agreed to live together. It can record such details as each party’s rights and responsibilities in relation to the property, the financial arrangements between them and the arrangements to be made if the cohabitation comes to an end. Cohabitation Agreements record a cohabiting couple’s intentions about the legal and beneficial ownership of the property when they decide to live together.

“A well-drafted Cohabitation Agreement will be enforceable by the court in the same way as any other contract and therefore reduces the possibility of a dispute over ownership if the cohabitation comes to an end.

“Cohabitation Agreements and the discussions between couples which naturally flow from introducing them into the relationship can avoid the acrimony, cost and uncertainty of litigation if the cohabitation comes to an end.”

Most straightforward Cohabitation Agreements can be negotiated and concluded for a fixed fee. If you are entering into a cohabiting relationship, a Cohabitation Agreement is an essential safeguard of your assets and your future.

For moore information regarding Cohabitation Agreements or cohabitation disputes, please contact us or call Maddy Hailey on 0161 832 3434.

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