Life and the traditions we have adopted over time are changing, and this seems to have been especially amplified over the past few years with change happening faster than ever.

We have grown up with the fairy tale story of meeting the person of our dream, moving in together, getting married, having children and growing old together. However, this has become further and further away from reality. Whilst couples are moving in together and co-habiting rates are growing, getting married, especially, is on the down. The research found that this isn’t just because of Covid and weddings being postponed, this is a trend that has been steadily increasing for that passed 10 years.

There are a lot of benefits to being married, such as, for tax purposes and legal rights (if the relationship deteriorates) but, if you decide that this isn’t what you wish to do then what rights do you have as cohabitors?

It is often thought that if you live together for a long period of time, that you automatically gain cohabitation rights. Unfortunately, this isn’t true! Even if you have lived together for 10 + years, have had children together and shared most of your joint expenses, you have no automatic rights to claim anything that your partner legally owns.

This can put many partners in a difficult financial position if the relationship breaks down. Let’s say for example, you moved into your partners home, and they own this in their own name, and you agree to start contributing 50% towards all the household bills and mortgage. You decide to have children and stay at home to raise them, giving up your career progression, income and also pension contributions / savings for retirement. If the relationship then breaks down or your partner dies, you don’t automatically legally have rights to their property, savings or pension. You would be relying on good will of your partner or their family (or good legal representation) to provide you with something at this time.Money is one of the biggest causes of family/ relationship disputes so preparing for the worst willn save you a lot of money, time and stress.

What if you don’t want to get married but need to protect yourself against the what-ifs?

No one likes to think of these circumstances, especially at the start of your relationship when you are in the ‘love bubble’ but they are very important over time to nail and ensure each partner is clear about the financial situation.

There are two legal documents you can organise to help protect you in these circumstances.

Firstly, a no-nup or cohabitation agreement. A cohabitation agreement is a legal document between unmarried couples who are living together. It sets out arrangements for finances, property and children while you’re living together and if you split up, become ill or die. A cohabitation agreement can also help you divide up bills and other responsibilities while you live together.

You can also write a Will, some people may think they are too young to write a will, but the truth is you are never too young! If things change in your life, you can always get them rewritten. This will help the executors of your estate divide your assets between your beneficiaries and will keep your partner and potential children in your family home. Without this document or a no-nup, your house and assets will be distributed in line with the Rules of Intestacy, meaning it will have to be distributed in a particular order and typically this will first go to your next of kin –parents or siblings – and your partner will have no rights to your home. You can ensure this doesn’t happen by having a will and cohabiting agreement.

It is also a good idea that if you agree you are both entitled to the house, to put the house into joint ownership, this means that if anything happens you both legally own 50% of the property. You can also apply for the alternative ‘tenants in common’ ownership, which can enable you to change the percentage split, giving one of you a greater portion of the property if suitable.

We also recommend adding pension beneficiaries for your pension plan(s). Pensions can be distributed differently than your will and adding beneficiaries is really simple.  This will enable your partner to inherit your pension and be able to claim the most tax-efficient income strategy for them. Its usually a simple one page document and you can change this in the future if necessary very easily again.

It’ll be interesting to see how, or if, the law adapts as people’s attitudes towards marriage change. In the meantime, if you’re about to embark on cohabitation, we suggest throwing in a little discussion about the value of a cohabitation agreement – as after that 50th piece of IKEA flatpack, you may just need it!

If you need any further information or guidance on this topic and the surrounding advice then please get in touch and we will be happy to help, or you can click the link below for further reading!