The UK's new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is set to move into Downing Street with his partner Carrie Symonds. They will be the first ever cohabiting couple to take up residence in Downing Street. This has once again shone the spotlight on the rapidly growing popularity of cohabitation in the UK, along with the lack of legal rights that currently exist for cohabitees.
What is Cohabitation?
Cohabitation is the term used to describe a couple living together with no formal recognition of their relationship, meaning they are not married or in a civil partnership.
With more and more couples choosing not to get married, or choosing to live together for a period of time before they tie the knot, cohabitation is now the fastest growing family type in the UK. The number of cohabiting couples has increased every year since 2014 and there are currently an estimated 3.3 million couples cohabiting in the UK.
While it has become the social norm for unmarried couples to live together, the issue lies with the lack of legal protection that cohabiting couples have. As it stands, there are no legislations in place to protect the rights of a cohabiting couple in the event of their separation or of one person's death. This applies to all cohabiting couples, including Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds.
What is particularly worrying is that a significant proportion of cohabiting couples are not aware of their legal rights, or lack thereof. There is a common misconception amongst cohabitees that they are protected under law by something called 'common law marriage.' As it currently stands though, there is no such thing as common law marriage in England and Wales.
This means that if the couple separates, one person could be left with little or nothing. Or if one person dies, the other could find themselves entitled to inherit nothing from their Estate, because inheritance laws don't recognise unmarried partners. Sadly, many people don't realise this until it's too late.
For this reason, there have been calls in recent years for civil partnerships to be opened up to mixed sex couples. Following a landmark ruling in the Supreme Court last year, this is set to happen, although no date has been confirmed for the change. It's hoped that this will provide an alternative option to mixed sex couples who have chosen not to get married.
Protecting the Rights of Cohabitees with a Cohabitation Agreement
In the meantime, one option that is available to cohabiting couples is to put a Cohabitation Agreement in place. This is a legal contract in which the couple can set out the terms of their cohabitation, as well as what would happen in the event of a separation.
A Cohabitation Agreement, also commonly known as a Living Together Agreement, can cover matters such as household finances, debts, what should happen to items that have been jointly bought, what should happen to pets, and so on.
It can also set out terms for certain matters during the relationship itself, such as who will contribute what to mortgage payments or bills, and who is responsible for carrying out which tasks in the home.
If you have any questions, or aren't sure whether a Cohabitation Agreement is the right option for you, our Family Solicitors can provide you with free initial legal advice and talk you through your options.
At Co-op Legal Services, we also offer transparent, fixed fee pricing for a range of Family Law matters, including Cohabitation Agreements. Our fixed fee Cohabitation Agreement costs £750+VAT.