The ‘common law’ myth and living together agreements

11 Feb 2016

The concept of ‘common law’ spouses is one often put to family lawyers. The reality is that couples living together without marrying are treated quite differently in law and certainly not as though they are married in most cases.
Separations amongst couples living together who are not married can be the most challenging and complicated arrangements to negotiate. Disputes relating to contributions made to the maintenance and repair of properties, improvements and payment of bills and mortgages arise in many situations. What was intended between the couple at the time can change over time or be misinterpreted or remembered differently by the two parties concerned. To complicate things further, the legal position is complex, and outcomes vary hugely and are case –specific making outcomes difficult to predict. Bringing this type of dispute to the attention of the Court can be expensive and lengthy.
Making financial arrangements at the start of the relationship can serve to greatly reduce disputes should there be a separation, and this in turn can reduce the time and cost involved for the parties when it comes to resolving issues that arise.
Cohabitation or ‘Living together’ agreements are prepared now routinely by family lawyers, often in conjunction with our colleagues in the property and wills teams to provide a package of documents designed to provide for all eventualities. Depending on your circumstances we may recommend declarations of ownership on deeds, wills and lasting powers of attorney as well as cohabitation agreements. Each document is prepared specifically for you and bearing in mind the situation in your individual case.
The bespoke nature of the cohabitation agreement for example is vital and allows for each couple to specify exactly how they plan to deal with financial plans and arrangements from bill payments to savings and property ownership throughout the course of their relationship, and how they expect to deal with a financial separation should their relationship end. The agreements can also cover plans relating to child care and support.
Cohabitation agreements ideally are negotiated before moving in together but can actually be prepared at any time in a relationship. We recommend that they are regularly reviewed so that they are kept up to date in the light of changes in the relationship including the arrival of children, inheritances, and other changes of financial circumstances.
In situations where a separated couple are in dispute we advise on the position and support and represent parties through negotiations and Court process if needed. We also advocate the use of dispute resolution methods where possible and appropriate including round table meetings and mediation.
For advice on whether a cohabitation agreement is suitable for your circumstances, or to find out more about how the law deals with unmarried families including arrangements for children please contact us.