Cohabiting couples should take appropriate steps to protect their hard-earned assets

Unmarried individuals who are living together in the UK need to make sure they have taken appropriate steps to protect their assets in the event of a separation – as such couples have limited legal rights if they decide to split up.

Contrary to popular opinion, the concept of ‘common law marriage’ – whereby a couple automatically acquires rights akin to marriage after cohabiting with a partner for a certain period of time – is in fact a myth in the UK.

This means that such couples have very few legal rights if they choose to split up – which can prove to be a big problem if they have shared a family home, have children together or share a number of high-value assets.

Surjit Verdi, Associate Solicitor and family law expert with Palmers, said that couples in this position ought to consider the benefits of drawing up a cohabitation agreement.

“A cohabitation agreement is a great way for couples to ensure that their best interests are protected should a relationship go pear-shaped,” Surjit said.

“These written documents can include detailed information regarding what will happen to finances and property in the event of a split – and therefore also help to minimise the risk of bitter arguments over such assets later down the line.”

Her comments come shortly after a recent survey carried out by Direct Line found that around one in ten people still believe in the myth of common law marriage – and therefore have not explored their options in terms of trying to protect their hard-earned assets.

Meanwhile, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that cohabitation is now the fastest-growing family type in the UK – doubling from 1.5 million in the mid-1990s to 3.3 million in 2017.

Surjit said that as an increasing number of Britons turn towards cohabitation and begin to reject marriage, thousands of people could be putting themselves at risk of losing their homes unless more is done to raise awareness of cohabitation agreements and other options available.

“Relationships are notoriously unpredictable, therefore cohabitees should seek advice at the earliest possible opportunity to ensure their best interests are protected,” she said.

In the summer, Palmers will be running a campaign to raise awareness of cohabitation, which will feature heavily across our website and social media posts throughout August. Keep up to speed with our blog here to find out more.

If you would like to enquire about cohabitation agreements today, please get in touch with our Family Law team.