Why should I have a Cohabitation Agreement?

James and Alice have lived together for ten years. During this time they’ve bought a cottage and had three children. James works as a paramedic, often on call at night, and Alice stays at home to look after the children and maintain the home. In the last year, things have started to go wrong. James and Alice are arguing more and more, and James feels that he’s had enough. He doesn’t want the relationship to continue and feels he would be happier if they lived separately. Alice agrees.

When they each seek legal advice, Alice discovers she has no legal right to live in the house she’s cleaned and looked after for ten years, and she doesn’t have any income because she hasn’t got a job. Where will she live? James discovers he couldn’t look after the children on a day-to-day basis because he works night shifts, and he’s not sure he’ll be able to continue paying the mortgage on the house because he has to give 25% of his income to Alice in child support. Both are scared they’ll lose things that are important to them, but neither have a choice. How could this have been prevented? With a Cohabitation Agreement.

marital advice

What happens when unmarried couples split up?

The law does not currently provide unmarried couples with many rights if the relationship breaks down. If there are any disputes, these will usually be assessed in a court and a judge will decide on what’s fair.

What the judge decides may not be suitable for either person, so it’s a good idea to take control before anything goes wrong and establish what should happen to you, your house, children and belongings in a Cohabitation Agreement. It might not be very romantic, and feels to some like planning for things to go wrong. However, in the same way as married couples consider pre-nuptial agreements, it’s wise to protect yourself for the future, leaving you with fewer worries as the relationship progresses.

If your relationship does break down, it will be comforting to know that both you and your former partner know where you stand in relation to anything that is jointly owned, and you won’t have to deal with the practical aspects alongside the stress of a relationship split.

We own a house together. Could I still live there if we split up?

It you and your partner own a house in both your names, it will be divided between you in the same way it was purchased. For example, if you and your partner put 50% each into the purchase, you will each receive 50% of it. If, however, you put in 25% and your partner put in 75%, you will receive 25% and your partner will get the rest. This might seem like a fair arrangement, but it might not take into account anything you’ve contributed to the property in addition. For example, while your partner put in three times more than you to purchase the house, the fact that you paid for building work, the new kitchen, or even general maintenance of the house may not be considered. You will need legal advice to be sure of where you stand.

In some cases, one person owns the property entirely, but the other person feels they have some right to it because they’ve contributed to or maintained the property. If this is the case, you will need legal help.

Children

The laws on who should take main custody of children are not always clear-cut and can cause terrible emotional upset if you aren’t aware of them. If you are unmarried, the question of parental responsibility can arise, over who has the legal rights and duties of a parent in relation to a child. If children are under 18 and born on or after 1 December 2003, and the father’s name is shown on the birth certificate, the father will legally have joint parental responsibility with the mother. If, however, the father is not named on the birth certificate, he may wish to ask the mother to enter into a parental responsibility agreement so he is legally responsible for the child. If this is not done, or the mother doesn’t agree, the court can make an order for it.

If one parent takes responsibility for the child, he or she can apply for a maintenance assessment from the Child Support Agency, so that the other parent must make child support payments for the child. These payments will be based on the income of the parent who does not live with the child, after the deduction of income tax and pension contributions. The payments will be as follows:

  • 15% of total monthly earnings when there is one child to support
  • 20% when there are two one children
  • 25% when there are three children or more

However, these payments are not set in stone. If children stay with this parent for 52 nights of the year or more, there can be adjustments to the amount of money the parent is required to pay. In other words, if the children spend equal amounts of time with the mother and father, there may not be as much, if any, child support to pay.

Is my former partner required to support me financially?

No. Currently, the law does not require one partner to financially support the other following the breakdown of a relationship unless there are children involved, no matter how long the couple has been together. Any money given from one partner to another should be for any children, unless there are very special circumstances. We understand it can be very difficult if you and your partner have lived off one income only, and the other partner has stayed at home to look after children. You might now be in a position where you don’t have any income and you don’t have a home. If you believe you are entitled to some help from your partner, we’d be happy to answer your questions to help you know where you stand.

Can I benefit from my partner’s pension if we split up?

No. If an unmarried couple parts, neither person is entitled to share in the pension of the other. The only way in which a former unmarried partner may benefit from their ex-partner’s pension may be if they are nominated to receive any benefits (usually on death) and the trustees of the pension scheme agree.

I’ve left everything to my partner in my Will. If we split up, will I have to change this?

Yes. Unlike married couples, where anything stated in a Will is automatically invalid upon divorce, you will have to change your Will if you’ve changed what you want your former partner to receive.

If you want to secure your future if your relationship breaks down, consider a Cohabitation Agreement.

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