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Common law wife or husband a myth

More children are being born out of wedlock than at any other point in the past and the proportion of couples living together is also predicted to continue to rise.

Yet many cohabiting couples wrongly assume they have legal rights, as common law man and wife, if they split up.  This is a myth and the system offers little protection whether you have lived together for two or 20 years.

A cohabiting partner, and any children born into the relationship, could be left with nothing if the relationship breaks down, even when financial contributions were made to the running of the home or you have lived as ‘husband and wife’ in all other regards.

However, you don’t need to rush out and get married!  Protecting you and your family can be done fairly simply and easily with a Cohabitation Agreement.

This legal document sets out arrangements, in the event of a relationship breakdown or death, for mutual financial support, property rights and caring for any children, as well as agreements in relation to specific assets.

Cohabitation agreements can be prepared by family lawyers to ensure that each person’s shares are recorded, and need not be expensive even though they are tailor-made to suit your circumstances.

Cohabitation agreements are now regularly recognised in law as binding contracts. They provide the parties with enforceable rights and clearly set out the agreed position as to contributions and division of assets in the event of separation.  They can be the first and last word of a disagreement, avoiding the need to battle through the court system.  They can be enforced through the courts, subject to having been drawn up correctly, without any pressure having been put on either party at the time the agreement was drafted and with both parties having been given the opportunity to seek independent legal advice.

Ideally a cohabitation agreement will be drawn up prior to the parties acquiring any joint assets.  However, these documents are working agreements and can be changed as the couple’s circumstances change.

Cohabitation agreements are a vital part of unmarried couples’ financial planning and can be equally useful for friends or family who decide to buy a house together.

If you would like advice on a Cohabitation Agreement or any other aspect of family law contact Martha Knowlden in the Family Department by email: or direct dial 01622 689724.