Last Updated on 23.9.21 by Nicola Fraser
Cohabitation as a couple is on the rise and is now firmly embedded into our modern society. The number of unmarried couples living together has more than doubled in the last 2 decades, from 105 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017.
Despite this increase, there is still a fundamental lack of awareness as to what legal rights (or lack thereof) a cohabiting couple has. In a recent survey by Resolution, two-thirds of cohabiting couples believe they were in a common-law marriage.
The myth of common-law marriage continues to convince cohabiting couples that they are entitled to the same legal protections as married couples when the relationship breaks down or one person passes away, particularly in regards to dividing up finances.
Unmarried couples who fall foul to this myth may neglect to take pragmatic measures such as ensuring that they are co-owners of the house they share, often leaving one party with no legal entitlement to what they may have thought were joint assets.
Granted many couples are guilty of optimistically believing that they will stay together for life or, failing that, separate mutually and amicably, so are hesitant to be the one to brandish paperwork that says who gets what if the relationship goes south.
But society is changing and cohabiting couples with children are the fastest-growing family type in the UK, and until the law introduces protections for cohabiting couples, they can protect their interests through the use of a cohabitation agreement. Couples can use a cohabitation agreement as a legal document outlining their intentions in a range of different scenarios.
When surveyed, 76% of couples had never heard of a cohabitation agreement, despite the fact they can be used to dictate how property assets and income should be divided, as well resolving household expenses, joint accounts and financial provision for children should the relationship break down, mitigating an awful lot of complications caused by having no agreement in place.