5 minute read

Coronavirus and co-habiting: what do unmarried couples need to know?

Our working and home lives have been turned upside down due to the coronavirus crisis. While we may have been initially thinking: This is only for a few weeks, what we are actually facing is an extended lockdown period.

Relationships in particular are changing and for many couples across the UK, the government lockdown has resulted in some relationships being fast-tracked. While people are speculating about the imminent increase in divorce (and birth!) rates, it is not just married couples who are being affected. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2018, 17.9% of families were co-habiting couples, and this figure might have risen sharply in 2020 in light of the current situation.

While relationships are strong, things are going well. When a relationship between a co-habiting couple breaks down, it becomes more complicated.

This blog explains where co-habiting couples legally stand in terms of dividing property and assets. A cohabitation agreement usually relates to a couple living together full time. An agreement records their living arrangements and what is to happen in the event of the relationship breaking down.   

What does co-habiting mean in legal terms?

Unfortunately, if a relationship between a couple who have moved in together breaks down, it is often difficult for the partners to agree on how property and assets should be divided. For example, did you know that living in another person’s property does not automatically give you a right to remain living there?

In terms of how the law looks at such an arrangement, where a cohabitees legally stands is determined by strict property and trust law principles. The situation is very different from married couples which is dealt with under the Matrimonial Clauses Act 1973 and considers the needs of each party and what is ‘fair’.

Two key points you need to think about

If you are a co-habiting couple and have recently moved in together, I suggest that you consider the following:

  1. Have an upfront conversation with your partner, making it clear what financial contributions each of you will make and if they are intending to provide a legal interest in the property.
  2. Consider having a cohabitation agreement drawn up, including (among other things):
  • The arrangement for paying the mortgage, rent or other household bills.
  • Ownership of the property.
  • Dividing household items, making it clear what would happen if you separate.

If you have made the decision to live together permanently, I can advise you on your legal rights and options available. Seeking early advice can give peace of mind now, and can possibly save heartache and financial stress further down the line.

I would also like to reassure you, if you are having relationship problems including thinking about separation or divorce, that help is available. Please contact me by email or phone for a confidential conversation.

Author: Jennifer Carr

As this is a difficult time for many of us, putting extra pressure on our working and home lives, Hillyer McKeown’s friendly family law team is offering free initial confidential discussions to anyone seeking family advice during this uncertain time.

Please note that our team are working remotely and are fully trained in providing legal advice by phone / video appointments, without compromising the standard of our service.