Published on November 25, 2023

How do I protect myself as a cohabitant? Firstly it is important to take the time to discuss financial arrangements before taking this step of moving in, no matter how difficult or awkward that may be. These discussions should then be set out formally and you should consider entering into a Cohabitation Agreement or Declaration of Trust.

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The contents of the agreement will depend upon whether the property in which you cohabit is in you sole name or joint names. Further information is given below:

Joint names

When you purchase a property it can be an exciting yet expensive time. Your conveyancer has a duty to explain to you the different types of joint ownership; these include Joint Tenancy and Tenants in Common in equal or unequal shares. You will most likely be given an information sheet about this explaining the difference. The main difference between Joint Tenants and Tenants in Common is that on death as Joint Tenants there is a presumption that you own it in equal shares, however, if you hold as joint tenants your share will pass automatically to your co-owner and vice versa. 

As Tenants in Common if you were to pre-decease your partner then your share will pass in accordance with your Will or if you do not have a Will, in accordance with the Rules of Intestacy.

The further benefit of Tenants in Common is that you can express unequal shares of ownership. Often cohabitants are putting in different deposits or there are intentions to pay unequal contributions towards the mortgage or improvements.  It can be a difficult conversation to have at the time of purchase, however, it is an important one. If there is nothing in place, a costly dispute can arise upon separation.

As a joint owner you could enter into a Cohabitation Agreement, incorporating a Declaration of Trust. This sets out your intentions very clearly. If you were to read about unmarried couple disputes you will see that once parties separate and there is a dispute over the property, their recollection of these discussions or agreements can change.  The solicitors, and ultimately the Court, are called upon to make a decision as to what the parties intended to do at the time of purchase. This can lead to legal costs in excess of £50,000 and up to £100,000 if the matter were to reach a trial and the impact of litigation is not to be underestimated.   

The purpose of a Cohabitation Agreement is to try to avoid this.  An agreement can set out what the parties’ contributions will be at the time of purchase, what they will be during the cohabitation, what will happen with home improvements and ultimately what they will do in the event of separation. This is a non-exhaustive list and the document can be tailored to meet your specific needs.  If drafted properly, it is a clear and fair guide for cohabitants to follow which should avoid any further legal costs.

Sole name

This is often the biggest purchase you will ever make using  most, if not all your savings as well as a significant proportion of your monthly income. It is important to protect this investment. Similar to an insurance policy, a Cohabitation Agreement can be a useful tool to protect an asset.

If you decide to live with your partner and they contribute towards the household bills or pay for some improvements, you could be putting yourself in a vulnerable position and could face a potential claim. There are no automatic rights for cohabitants, no matter how long you have lived together. However, depending on the circumstances your partner could try to claim an interest in your property. The onus will be on them to prove their case but often even the weakest of claims can result in you incurring legal costs because they still need to be addressed.

If and when you decide to invite your partner to live with you, you may wish to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement. The agreement will state that they will live with you, contribute towards general household bills, however, will NOT gain any interest in your property. Equally, it can set out arrangements in the event you separate. i.e how long they have to leave. This can provide clarity for both parties.

Want to know more – listen to our podcast number 5  on our series A Journey Through Separation.

You may also find this article useful: The House Isn’t In My Name And We Are Unmarried. Do I Have Any Rights?

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The Early Days Of Separation

Humans are designed to cope with many onslaughts, but change continues to prove extremely challenging. How you manage the early days of separation or divorce has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the process.

When couples separate, they are often thrown into a period of uncertainty. Identities are changing from couple to single, from mum and dad together as a family unit to mum with children and dad with children. Depending on the circumstances and who decides to leave the family home, there are many questions that arise during the early days of separation. “Will we have to sell our home?” “I haven’t worked since we had children – how will we manage financially?” “What will our friends and family think?” “How much will divorce cost?”
“Will I cope on my own?” There seems to be so much to sort out both practically and emotionally and it comes at a time when at least one of you will be ‘all over the place’ emotionally due to the loss you are experiencing. This can make decision-making seem impossible. Who wants to agree the practicalities of legal issues and more importantly organise the children when they are devastated, angry and confused by loss? It can turn otherwise rational, clear-thinking mums and dads into what appears to be belligerent, stubborn, unreasonable people.

Take Your Time!

In those early days of separation or divorce, take your time if you can. Seek support from friends, family and professionals. Try not to make any big decisions too quickly.
Bear in mind that communication problems with your ex and all the pressures on family life you are now experiencing, like for many separating couples, will get better with time. It’s important to recognise that you and your ex will more than likely be in very different emotional places at the moment; different stress levels and anxieties will be making communication difficult. Taking the time to sometimes do nothing, to not react, give things a day or two, can prove very useful techniques.
What you have to remember is that if you have children, your ex is always going to be part of your life. That can be hard to take on board when you are feeling hurt and angry. If you can find a way to communicate with each other that focuses on the children, you will all benefit in the years to come.

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