Unmarried Couples: How to secure your living together rights

An unmarried couple who live together often assume they have some legal rights to the property, especially if they both contribute to it.

However, without a legal agreement in place your rights aren’t necessarily protected in the event of a relationship breakdown and you could lose out.

So, in his latest article, Family Partner Andy Stynes looks at the different type of agreements that can be used to set out ownership of property and outlines which is best.

What is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A Cohabitation Agreement (or ‘living together arrangement’) is a legally binding document that details all the financial and living arrangements, for both the present and future, between you and your partner.

It essentially:

  • Arranges you and your partner’s assets, setting out ownership
  • Outlines what financial responsibilities you will have to each other in the event of a break-up
  • And describes how joint assets, such as property, cars etc, will be distributed were you to split-up

Is a declaration of trust the same as a Cohabitation Agreement?

A Declaration of Trust (DoT) is a legally binding document which may set out each person’s contribution towards a property, and outlines how it would be split in separation.

A DoT is not the same as a Cohabitation Agreement, the main difference being that it deals with property ownership only and dictates how any proceeds of sale will be divided if the property is sold, whereas a Cohabitation Agreement can include all financial assets.

Declarations of Trust can also be used can be used to protect a parent’s investment in their child’s home, and give rights to people who aren’t named on the mortgage.

Related: Our house is in my partner's name, what are my rights

What about pre-nuptial agreements?

A prenuptial agreement (‘pre-nup’) is an agreement made between two parties before marriage or civil partnership takes place. It can be used to set out how the couple wish their assets, including property, to be divided between them if they later separate or divorce.

A pre-nuptial agreement should be signed at least 28 days before the marriage or civil partnership with all assets and property owned by both parties disclosed. Alternatively, a post-nuptial agreement could be made following the marriage/civil partnership.

Read our article about post-nuptial agreements here.

A pre-nuptial agreement differs from a declaration of trust and a cohabitation agreement because it is only available to partners who are intending to get married.

What are the benefits of cohabitation agreements?

Cohabitation agreements provide unmarried couples with a legal basis for their arrangements so any potential litigation can be avoided if the relationship does break down.

Not only does set out property arrangements, but it also includes details of all financial assets.

In addition, it allows both partners to have a clear understanding of what is expected of them, including what their duties and obligations to one another are.

Lastly, in a cohabitation agreement, you choose what to include or exclude from the agreement; and this can be as much or as little information as you like.

What are the disadvantages of cohabitation agreements?

There is a risk that a cohabitation agreement may not be legally binding if it is not drafted and executed properly and signed as a deed. It is therefore essential to take the correct advice from the outset.

There is further risk of the agreement not being legally binding if you do not update the agreement when circumstances change, for example, a further property is bought or you have children.

For this reason, we’ll always recommend you take legal advice.

You can find out more about cohabitation agreements, and why you might need one, in our dedicated article here.

In the full article, Andy goes on to look at the pros and cons of declarations of trust, pre-nuptial agreements and more; outlining which is best. Click here to read it.

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