Lauren Preedy – Senior Solicitor – Head of Divorce Team
Cohabiting and Unmarried Couples
Many couples live together without getting married or entering a civil partnership.
Many couples who live together without being married also have children.
Statistically these relationships do not last as long as relationships where the couple choose to marry or enter a civil partnership.
There is no such thing as Common Law Husband/Wife. In fact, the law can be quite harsh in how it deals with financial disputes between unmarried couples.
It is increasingly common for a couple who are planning to marry to enter into a Prenuptial Agreement or for a couple who have already married to have a Post-nuptial Agreement (which essentially does the same thing – but is entered after the marriage rather than before). If a married couple separates they can also enter into a Separation Agreement.
These agreements are essentially contracts which a couple enter into with a view to limiting each other’s legal rights in the event of separation or with a view to agreeing how a separation should be conducted.
For couples who are planning to live together but not marry or enter a civil partnership or who have already started living together, it is also possible to enter into a similar arrangement called a Living Together Agreement or Cohabitation Agreement.
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The importance of Living Together Agreements or Cohabitation Agreements
Couples who live together outside of marriage or civil partnership will not have the benefit of the wide discretion and underlying objective of fairness which underpins the law of divorce and civil partnership.
Instead separating unmarried couples must rely on a mishmash of different laws. In the case of disputes over property these laws were not designed to assist couples who live together and have children together in a property owned only by one.
We would therefore strongly urge anyone who is thinking of living together with their partner outside of marriage or is already living together with their partner outside of marriage to take legal advice as to whether it would be sensible to have a Living Together or Cohabitation Agreement. Particularly if they are thinking of buying or have bought a property and even more particularly if they are thinking of having or have children.
The best time to resolve disagreements is when they have not yet happened. Anticipating a potential problem and agreeing what will happen if that problem does materialise at a point in time when the couple get on with each other, is much much better than trying to resolve a problem when a couple are not getting on with each other.
As we also set out in our pages on Cohabitation Agreements – the exercise of preparing an agreement can also help clarify how the couple will live together – which can also assist to avoid problems which might over time undermine the relationship. Discussing what might be part of a Cohabitation Agreement might mean that a couple realised that they are not really suited to living with each other. This is not necessarily a bad thing and could avoid a lot of grief for both further along the line.
Whilst Cohabitation Agreements can be very helpful – they are not as common as they should be and couples do split and do fall into dispute.
Our approach is the same for all of our clients which is to endeavour to resolve cases through sensible negotiation in the best way.
If the case cannot be resolved through sensible agreement and court action is necessary then it is best to conduct the litigation in a sensible and principled way – endeavouring always to avoid unnecessary side disputes or distractions from trying to resolve the fundamental problem sensibly.
At Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors we have a team of lawyers who specialise in disputes between unmarried couples. This includes not only disagreements between couples of different sexes but also between same-sex couples.
Kris Seed – Senior Chartered Legal Executive – Head of Private Law Children Team
Our Family Finance Team is led by Lauren Preedy. Lauren is an experienced Family Law Solicitor and Collaborative Family Lawyer and the chair of the Somerset region of Resolution
Our team also includes leading LGBT+ specialist solicitor: Bridget Garrood. Bridget is also a Collaborative Family Lawyer and is a volunteer committee member for TheLaw Society’s LGBT+ Lawyers Division. Bridget is also a former chair of the Devon region of Resolution.
Our Finance Team also includes Fiona Griffin who is another Cohabiting specialist. Financial disputes between former cohabitees can be quite a niche area of family law and we therefore have one of the strongest teams in the South-West.
Our Private Law Children Team headed by Kris Seed also has considerable expertise in representing former cohabitees including on the breakdown of surrogacy arrangements.
If you need our assistance then please do get in touch…
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