Cohabiting during a pandemic: what couples need to know

As lockdown once again prevents us from socialising with our friends and loved ones, many couples are deciding to bite the bullet and move in together to avoid potentially going months without seeing each other. Research from the relationships charity Relate, together with dating website eHarmony, suggests that the COVID-19 lockdown has led to a wave of ‘turbo relationships’, where couples have moved at a much faster pace than they would have otherwise. The study also suggested that nearly six in 10 couples (59%) felt more committed to their partner after going through lockdown together[1].

Sharing a property

If your decision to move in with your partner during lockdown was a spur-of-the-moment decision, whether due to love or financial considerations, it’s likely that you thought less about this considerable step up in your relationship than you might otherwise have done. Now, however, it’s important to start considering the legal implications of living together.

If you are the sole owner of your property, for example, you’ll need to set out a plan for your joint finances. You must think very carefully about how you communicate with your partner about their financial contributions; if they are giving up their own property to live with you, they may believe that their contribution to your mortgage and other household expenses gives them a legal interest in your property. If you do not wish this to be the case, you must clearly say so. If the relationship breaks down and your partner does claim a legal interest, then depending on the length of your cohabitation, the extent of your partner’s financial contributions and any communications you have had on the topic, a Court may rule that they should receive an interest in your property.

Even if you are renting, it’s important to agree on how you will split costs such as bills, rent and other shared expenses, to avoid difficulties and disagreements later on.

The myth of common law marriage

Many unmarried couples believe that living together confers the same kind of legal rights enjoyed by their married counterparts, for example entitlement to property, financial support or the right to inherit their partner’s assets if they were to die unexpectedly. However, this is not the case. When unmarried couples go their separate ways, the partners bear no legal responsibilities towards each other (unless they have children together). Similarly, if one of the partners were to die, the surviving partner has no legal right to inherit their property or assets unless the deceased left a Will. Without a Will, the rules of intestacy will apply, and will determine which beneficiaries inherit and in what amounts.

The solution: a Cohabitation Agreement

A Cohabitation Agreement is a legal document signed by a cohabiting couple that sets out their intentions relating to property, money and other assets that they own, either jointly or individually. If the relationship breaks down, this document can be used to divide the couple’s assets according to what has been agreed. The Agreement can be useful for making arrangements for such matters as:

  • Who will contribute financially towards bills and other household expenses, and in what quantities;
  • Who owns what share in your property;
  • Whether a partner has a legal interest in the property if the other partner is the sole owner;
  • Who will be responsible for paying debts such as credit card loans and car finance;
  • Who will be nominated for death-in-service benefits, pensions or life insurance payouts;
  • What will happen if the relationship breaks down.

Expert Family Lawyers, here to help

Making a Cohabitation Agreement now will save time, money and stress down the line in the unfortunate event of a relationship breakdown. Without one, matters could become costly with Court proceedings in the event of a dispute – with no guarantee of a positive outcome. For sound legal advice, or to draw up a Cohabitation Agreement, please get in touch with our team at familylaw@woodfines.co.uk.

-Eloise Wilson 

[1] https://www.relate.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/2020/6/24/lockdown-creates-wave-turbo-relationships-new-couples-quicker-commit-0

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