Most people assume that there is something called a ‘common law wife’. This is a myth. Cohabitants have no special legal rights over each other.
That’s why it’s so important, if you’re unmarried, to get a cohabitation agreement drawn up or you could end up with nothing if they split up.
Married couples have many rights to each other’s property, but as a cohabiting couple you have no rights to maintenance for yourself from your partner; no rights to property that is not in your name; no inheritance rights if your partner doesn’t make a will; no rights to your partner’s pension and if you’re an unmarried father you have no automatic rights to parental responsibility, which means you have no say over the way your children are brought up!
What the cohabitation agreement should cover
You should make a cohabitation agreement to record your financial obligations towards each other. It should cover the following:
- Will you buy or rent a house and how will it be owned?
- Who will pay the outgoings (e.g. electricity, water bills, etc.)?
- How will home repairs and improvements be agreed?
- How will those repairs and improvements be funded?
- In what circumstances will the home be sold?
- Will you have any joint accounts and how will the joint accounts be operated?
- If you have any joint credit cards, how will the joint credit cards be operated?
- What are your intentions regarding your property and assets after your death? Remember that you will also need to make a Will. You can get a Last Will & Testament Kit from Lawpack.
- Who is responsible for any school fees?
- Will you each enter into a Lasting Power of Attorney (Property and Affairs) or a Lasting Power of Attorney (Personal Welfare) so that you can deal with your partner’s assets or make decisions about their healthcare when they are not capable of doing so? You can get a Power of Attorney Kit from Lawpack.
- How will your possessions be divided?
When to revise your cohabitation agreement
As time goes on, your relationship may change and significant things will happen in your life that may make your cohabitation agreement unfair.
If it’s clearly unjust, it’s unlikely that it will be upheld by the courts. Therefore, if anything significant does happen in your relationship, it’s wise to consider redrafting the cohabitation agreement; such a reason may be:
- the birth of a child;
- one of you becomes seriously ill;
- one of you becomes disabled;
- one of you is made redundant;
- a significant change in your financial circumstances or the financial contributions you each make towards your relationship and your home;
- one of you receives a large inheritance.
In this instance it will only provide evidence of what your intentions were towards each other when you were living together. This is because marriage is itself a contract and it supercedes any pre-existing contract.
- How to draw up a cohab agreement
- Cohabitating couples: Your legal rights, or lack of them
- Why ‘common law’ marriage doesn’t exist
- Your parental rights as an unmarried couple
Published on: July 12, 2011