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
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
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.