1. When it comes to living together, do unmarried couples have any automatic rights?

Unmarried cohabitant couples have very limited legal rights in comparison to married couples. There are no automatic rights just because you have lived together for a certain period of time. Sometimes it is possible to make claims but they can be complex and require expert legal advice. People with children together may have some extra limited claims upon separation, again expert legal advice is required.

2. What is a cohabitation agreement and how does it protect unmarried couples who live together?

A Cohabitation Agreement is a legally binding contract between cohabitants that set out their intentions in relation to property and assets owned either in sole names or jointly. It will set out what should happen in the unfortunate event of a relationship breakdown and the arrangements for the finances whilst living together (eg. who will pay for each outgoing and/or utility). It is vitally important that a Cohabitation Agreement is drafted and executed correctly to ensure that it is enforceable, and cohabitants should be encouraged to obtain legal advice before preparing an agreement.

3. Talk us through the steps a solicitor will go through when helping a couple to make a cohabitation agreement.

A Solicitor will discuss exactly what the cohabitants wish to be covered in the Cohabitation Agreement and what assets both parties have to include within the provisions. The agreement must be drafted and entered into freely and voluntarily by both parties, and both parties need to obtain independent legal advice to ensure that they understand the terms of the agreement. The solicitor will gain insight as to what issues have already been discussed and usually raise others that would be relevant that the client hasn’t perhaps thought of.

4. What are the main areas unmarried couples should consider when deciding what provisions to make in their cohabitation agreement?

Cohabitants should consider matters such as; arrangements for payments (eg. mortgage repayments, utility bills and rent) and whether this raises any interest in the property or not, ownership of property, arrangements for children and pets and next of kin rights both whilst they are cohabiting and in the event of separation. It is also important for Cohabitants to consider entering into a valid Will alongside a Cohabitation Agreement if either of them wish to make sure they inherit from each other in the event of death. Further the practicalities of what would happen in the event of separation, who would move out, would the property have to be sold etc.

5. When should a couple consider updating their cohabitation agreement?

A Cohabitation Agreement should be reconsidered on any major life changes and if the terms of the agreement have changed, for example if one party is in a position to contribute more to a jointly owned property altering the shares dictated in the cohabitation agreement. Parties should also think about entering into a pre-nuptial agreement if they decide to marry.