Research released by the Office for National Statistics reveals that there is a growing trend in the number of couples choosing to cohabit, increasing to over 3 million in the past year. Whether this is due to a cultural shift in attitudes or simply due to the expense attached to tying the knot, couples must be aware of how cohabitation can affect their legal rights.

It would appear that there is a certain degree of public ambiguity surrounding cohabitation, many people mistakenly hold the belief that common law marriage still exists in England and Wales. This is not the case. The legal status and rights of cohabiting couples differ very significantly to that of married couples, and those choosing to cohabit must take the necessary steps to ensure they are financially protected in the unfortunate event their relationship breaks down.

Take for example the legalities surrounding the home you share with your partner. The law surrounding property can be extremely complex for cohabiting couples, potentially leaving one party with no legal rights to the home they once loved. This can be particularly problematic for couples living in rented accommodation, where the tenancy is in one party’s name affording them the authority to ask you to leave the property although they must give you due notice.

Similar issues also arise for homeowners where the property is owned by one party.  The owner is within their legal right to ask their partner to leave on reasonable notice, and is even able to sell the property without first consulting them. Exceptions only apply in a small number of instances where the owner has a written agreement or arrangement explicitly stating the other party’s entitlement to a financial sum in the event the property is sold.

Regardless of how many years you and your partner have been together, unfortunately you will still not be afforded the same legal rights as a married couple. For example, unmarried couples cannot claim against the pension of the other on separation. To suggest couples should take the plunge of marriage in order to secure a more stable future may be a somewhat drastic solution. In order to limit any disagreements that might arise in the unfortunate event of a relationship breaking down and provide more certainty, couples choosing to cohabit may wish to consider entering in to what is known as a ‘cohabitation agreement’.

A cohabitation agreement works much like a prenuptial agreement; in that both parties will sign a formal contract detailing each partner’s entitlement in the event the relationship breaks down.  This can be tailored specifically to each couple’s wishes, detailing circumstances regarding financial assets and property. Although this may appear a trifle unromantic it offers cohabiting couples some protection and security if, sadly, the relationship does not work out.

Here at Farleys Solicitors our award winning team have a wealth of experience advising couples across the full spectrum of marital agreements including cohabitation. For further advice or to speak to a specialist family law solicitor contact us on 0845 050 1958. Alternatively please complete an online enquiry form.