Cohabitation Agreements & Unmarried Couples

When you work with our family law solicitors we promise:

  • We will respond to all emails sent during working hours within 24 hours.
  • We pick up our phone. You will be able to directly speak to your solicitor.
  • We listen to you and get to know you. We listen to your story.
  • We care. We treat our clients how we want to be treated and rely on word-of mouth-referrals.
  • We explain things clearly, in plain English, with no unnecessary legal jargon.
  • We provide a first-class service. The majority of our work comes from client recommendations.

Couples who live together without getting married or entering a civil partnership are often confused about their legal rights. Getting expert legal advice on your options, including whether to make a cohabitation agreement, can help to give you clarity and peace of mind.

At Lewis Denley, we are here to make your life easier. Our Family Law team can offer friendly, sensible advice on cohabitation agreements, as well as general family law advice for unmarried couples. We can help you make the right choices to protect your future financial security and wellbeing.

You can benefit from the expertise of Senior Associate Solicitor Marwa Hadi-Barnes, who has over 14 years’ family law experience, including working with many cohabiting and unmarried couples.

Marwa has been recognised for her standout expertise in leading client guides the Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners. She is a member of family law network Resolution, an organisation that shares her commitment to removing conflict from family law.

Based in central Horsham, our cohabitation lawyers help clients across Sussex, Surrey and beyond, including in Rudgwick, Billingshurst, Crawley, Ewhurst, Gatwick, Copthorne, Pulborough, Dorking, Reigate, Godalming, Guildford, Midhurst and Brighton.

Our family law pricing for unmarried and cohabiting couples is clear and transparent, with options including fixed fees to suit you.

We take pride in being approachable, helpful and here for our community.

We offer a free 30-minute consultation with Marwa Hadi-Barnes to discuss a cohabitation agreement or any other issue affecting unmarried couples and how we can help.

How we can help you with cohabitation agreements and family law for unmarried couples

Cohabitation agreements

For a cohabitation agreement to have legal standing, both parties should obtain independent legal advice before signing. This helps to make sure you fully understand the agreement and that you can be confident it reflects your best interests.

At Lewis Denley, our family lawyers can help with:

  • Advice on what to include in a cohabitation agreement
  • Drafting a cohabitation agreement
  • Reviewing a cohabitation agreement you have been asked to sign
  • Negotiating the terms of a cohabitation agreement
  • The application of a cohabitation agreement during a separation

Separation for unmarried couples

When an unmarried couple separates, there can be a lot of confusion over exactly what rights you have and your options for achieving a fair separation. There is no such thing as a “common law marriage”. Many cohabitees mistakenly believe they are a “common law husband” or a “common law wife”. Getting expert legal advice can make your position clear and give you the best chance of a positive outcome.

Our family lawyers in Horsham can help with:

  • Advice on your legal rights during a separation as an unmarried couple
  • Property rights for unmarried couples
  • Negotiating a voluntary financial settlement for an unmarried couple
  • Making arrangements for children of unmarried couples during separation

Children law for unmarried couples

Unmarried parents frequently have a lot of questions about their parental rights during a separation and the best way to approach making arrangements for children. The right legal advice can make things much simpler, helping you to get the right result for you and your children.

Our Horsham family lawyers can help with:

  • Negotiating child arrangements for children of unmarried couples
  • Applying to a family court for a Child Arrangements Order
  • Parental responsibility for unmarried parents

Cohabitation and family law for unmarried couples FAQs

What is a cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is a document created by an unmarried couple who plan to live together or who are currently living together. It allows the couple to agree any key issues they want resolved in advance, such as how their mortgage or rent will be paid and what rights each party would have in the event of a separation.

What should a cohabitation agreement include?

A cohabitation agreement can cover anything you need it to, but typically will include how key issues will be dealt with if you separated, such as:

  • What would happen to your family home
  • Who any children you have would live with
  • How savings, investments and other assets would be divided

It can also cover day-to-day practical issues while you are together, such as:

  • How your mortgage/rent will be paid
  • How bills will be paid
  • Life insurance policies
  • Payment of debts
  • Pensions

Is a cohabitation agreement legally binding?

A cohabitation agreement is a legal contract between the two parties. There are differing views over whether they are enforceable by the Court. However, if an agreement is drafted correctly, this will reduce the scope for argument about this, in the event of separation.

In practice, this problem rarely arises, however, as couples who have made a cohabitation agreement usually stick to them. However, if you have a concern that a cohabitation agreement you have signed is unfair or no longer reflects your circumstances (e.g. if you have had children since it was made) then it may be possible to challenge the agreement. In such cases, specialist legal advice is essential.

Can a cohabitation agreement be changed?

Yes, there is nothing to prevent you renegotiating the terms of a cohabitation agreement with your partner. In fact, it is sensible to review the agreement periodically to see if it still fits your circumstances. If your situation has changed since the agreement was made e.g. you have bought a home or had children, then it will be sensible to create a revised agreement to reflect this.

Do I need a cohabitation agreement?

We strongly recommend that any cohabiting couple make a cohabitation agreement, but they are particularly worth considering if you:

  • Are buying a house together
  • One of you lives in a house the other owns
  • One of you is financially dependent on the other
  • You have children together

Am I entitled to half the house if I am not married?

If you own the house together, then what percentage of the property you are entitled to will depend on how you own the house and any other legal agreements you have in place.

There are two options for owning a property with another person:

Joint tenants – who have equal shares in the whole property

Tenants in common – can own different shares of a property

If you are joint tenants, you will be entitled to 50% of the proceeds of sale of the house. If you are tenants in common, you should have a ‘deed of trust’ (also known as a ‘declaration of trust’) which sets out what percentage of the property each of you owns.

If you are living in a house where your name is not on the title deeds, the presumption is that the legal owner owns all the interest in the property unless you can prove you have a beneficial interest in the property.

What happens when unmarried parents split up?

In most cases, being unmarried will not affect your rights as a parent if you separate from your partner. The key thing is whether or not you have ‘parental responsibility’ for your child or children. As long as you do, you have the same rights as married parents or those in a civil partnership.

The following people will normally have parental responsibility for a child whether they were married or not:

  • Birth mothers
  • Fathers listed on the birth certificate
  • Same-sex partners of the birth mother who registered the birth jointly, completed a ‘statutory declaration of acknowledgement of parentage’ or have a court order granting them parental responsibility
  • Adoptive parents
  • Anyone who has been granted parental responsibility either by agreement with everyone else who holds parental responsibility or via a Parental Responsibility Order issued by a court

What is a common law marriage?

It is a very common misconception that unmarried couples who have lived together for a certain amount of time have rights under the concept of ‘common law marriage’. The reality is that there is no such thing as common law marriage under English law, so unmarried couples have no special rights, no matter how long they have lived together.

Unlike couples who are married or in a civil partnership, unmarried couples have no right to each other’s property, pensions or other assets. Sadly, this means people are often left in a difficult financial situation if their relationship breaks down and they were financially dependent on their partner.

One of the best ways to avoid such a situation is to make a cohabitation agreement as this can set out exactly what rights each party has, including to things like a share of the family home and savings. This provides both partners with reassurance that their future will be financially secure, no matter what happens.

Our cohabitation and unmarried couples advice fees

The cost of getting expert legal advice on cohabitation and family law for unmarried couples can be a concern. We are committed to transparency with our family law pricing, so will always be upfront about the costs involved, including our fees and any third-party costs.

We offer fixed fee advice where appropriate and will be happy to discuss all the likely costs involved once we have a clearer picture of your requirements, which is something we can cover during your free initial consultation.

Book a free 30-minute consultation with our family lawyer for unmarried couples

We want to make it as easy as possible for cohabiting and unmarried couples to plan for their future and navigate all aspects of family law. If you have any questions about how we can help you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Our specialist family lawyer for cohabiting and unmarried couples will be happy to offer a free 30-minute consultation over the phone or via videoconference.

To arrange your free 30-minute consultation, please contact Marwa Hadi-Barnes today.

Speak to an expert

    Other resources

    20 October 2021

    What Legal Protections Are There for People Experiencing Domestic Abuse?

    By

    If you are being subjected to domestic abuse, there are a number of legal protections available to help you. [...]

    Read more

    15 October 2021

    Divorce and Civil Partnership Dissolution – What Are the Key Differences?

    By

    When a marriage or civil partnership breaks down, those involved can seek a divorce or dissolution respectively. While a [...]

    Read more

    Marwa Hadi did a first class job.  I would recommend her to anybody.

    Thank you very much Marwa.  I just wanted to say that your efficiency and helpfulness has been of great help to me through what has obviously been a very difficult time for me.  I would be happy to recommend your services to anyone else I know who finds themselves in this situation.

    Thank you so much for all your hard work and good solid advice along the way.  I am very pleased with the outcome and feel I can finally start to think about building a new life for me and the children.

    I just wanted to thank you for all your help. I really couldn’t have hoped for a better result and I was so worried. I can only thank you for your kindness. Your response to the pension report made excellent reading and I could tell that a lot of work had gone into it.

    I am very grateful for all the support you have provided me with over this very stressful time and you have always been utterly professional, thank you

    I would like to thank you for all the patience and assistance you have given me during this time and for getting me through to the end with my health, sanity and pension untouched

    Just a quick message to say thank you for all your help in resolving my divorce efficiently. You are a credit to your profession

    I just wanted to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to you for all your efforts over the last year. It has been a very stressful time to be and I’m glad that you managed to achieve what we set out to achieve in that I’m having contact with my daughter

    Offices