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Cohabitees and unmarried families are the fastest growing type of family unit in the UK. More than 6 million couples in the UK cohabit, according to the Office for National Statistics – more than double the number 20 years ago. However, cohabiting couples and unmarried families are offered very little legal protection. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a common law marriage in English law.
At OTS Solicitors, our family law team has a wealth of experience advising and representing cohabitating couples and unmarried families. From drafting cohabitation agreements for couples moving in together to representing clients involved in a dispute over child arrangements, our team provides caring, practical advice in a friendly, sensitive manner. Our primary aim is to look after your best interests and those of your children.
Our family lawyers in London are headed by Rakhi Singal. Rakhi has over five years’ experience in family law and litigation. She is also a member of Resolution, an organisation of 6,500 family lawyers who follow a strict Code of Practice designed to resolve family law matters in a constructive, non-confrontation manner. Resolution members also campaign for improvements to the family justice system.
Rakhi and her team believe in resolving family law disputes in a non-confrontational manner. As with all the best family lawyers, we work with cohabitating couples in a manner that ensures attending court is an option of last resort. Therefore, if circumstances allow, we focus on resolving disagreements through methods such as round-table negotiations and mediation. This allows cohabitating couples and unmarried families to take control of how to manage their dispute over finances, children, relocation etc. and discover workable, long-term solutions.
Often disputes concerning cohabitating couples and unmarried families begin with a disagreement over whether the relationship was one of cohabitation.
Legal definitions of what constitutes a relationship involving a cohabiting couple are spread across statute and common law.
Statutory definitions of cohabitation
Under paragraph 10C of Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Child Support Act 1991, a ‘couple’ is “two people who are not married to, or civil partners of, each other but are living together as a married couple.” In another example, section 62 of the family law Act 1996 defines cohabitees as “two people who are not married to, or civil partners of, each other but are living together as husband and wife or as if they were civil partners.”
Common law definitions of cohabitation
In case law, judges will examine whether the following factors are present when assessing whether a couple are cohabitees:
- whether the couple are members of the same household and share daily life
- the intention and motivations of the parties
- how stable the relationship is
- do the couple pool together their finances or does one party financially support the other?
- is the relationship of a sexual nature?
- do the couple have children together or has one party taken on the responsibility for the children of the other party to the relationship?
- do friends and family acknowledge the parties are a couple?
Our family law solicitors in London can provide you with the best and most up-to-date legal advice on whether your relationship would be considered one of cohabitation should a dispute develop if you decide to separate.
Cohabitation agreements – protecting your rights as a cohabitee
Nobody moves in with a person they love, expecting the relationship to end. Unfortunately, relationships can and do break down, and unmarried couples often find they have no right to the home they have been living in for years or their partner's pension. As family law solicitors, a common, highly contentious situation we regularly see is where a woman has stayed at home raising the family while her partner has worked. Often in these traditional family arrangements, it is the male partner’s name which is on the property title, car registration, and utilities. If the relationship breaks down, he can legally order his partner to leave the property and any other assets, leaving her effectively homeless. This can occur even if she has been making contributions to the mortgage, car payments, and other household bills.
Cohabitation agreements provide the best evidence of what was intended by a couple as to how property and assets should be divided if the relationship breaks down. Our team of expert family lawyers can help draft a cohabitation agreement which will set out who owns what and in what proportion and lets you document how you will split your property, its contents, personal belongings, savings and other assets should you separate. A cohabitation agreement can also cover how you will support your children, over and above any legal requirements to maintain them, as well as how you would deal with bank accounts, debts, and joint purchases such as a car.
A cohabitation agreement can also be used to set out how you and your partner will manage your day-to-day finances while you live together, such as how much each contributes to rent or mortgage and bills.
For a cohabitation agreement to be binding, each party must have received independent legal advice. We can provide guidance on the financial implications of the cohabitation agreement you have been asked to sign and negotiate changes on your behalf.
Arrangements for children
Deciding who the children will predominantly live with and the type of contact the non-custodial parent will have is one of the most difficult parts of separating. Our experienced, compassionate solicitors are highly-trained in non-confrontational dispute resolution methods and will work with you to create the best child arrangements solutions to suit your unique family situation.
If you are entering into a cohabitee arrangement or your relationship has broken down, we can advise you on how to protect your best interests.
For a more detailed discussion regarding your cohabitation matter, or to book an appointment with a member of our family law team, please call us now on 0203 959 9123