When a married couple’s relationship breaks down irretrievably it is likely they will seek the advice of a divorce solicitor to help them make or defend an ancillary relief order. Cohabiting couples are not protected by the law in the same way that married or civil partnered couples are, but the advice of a family lawyer may be invaluable if matters regarding finances, property and assets become disputed.
There are many reasons why two people choose not to marry or enter into a civil partnership, but when they decide to live together and perhaps have children or invest in property, then their lives are inextricably joined.
What constitutes cohabitation?
In 2003, HHJ Norris QC, sitting as a chancery division judge, felt it necessary to determine what cohabitation or “living together in the same household” means. He is quoted thus:
“It seems to me to have elements of permanence, to involve a consideration of the frequency and intimacy of contact, to contain an element of mutual support, to require some consideration of the degree of voluntary restraint upon personal freedom which each party undertakes and to involve an element of community of resources. None of these factors is of itself sufficient, but each may provide an indicator.”
In many cases where disputes occur over a cohabiting couple’s finances, property or assets a court will be required to determine, in the absence of a legally binding agreement such as marriage certificate or civil partnership registration, what the nature of the relationship was and whether both parties were in agreement regarding the nature of the relationship.
For instance where a couple have “lived together” for several years in a property, if one partner has spent frequent, long periods of time away from the address then it may be hard to argue that the couple were cohabiting.
Agreeing to live together
Cohabiting couples who are buying a property together should always seek expert legal advice regarding the nature of ownership of the property and what would happen should the relationship break down.
To this end, family lawyers are able to help couples draft living together agreements (LTAs), much as they would assist in the drawing up of a pre-nuptial agreement.
Although, not legally binding in English and Welsh family law, a well-crafted LTA may be helpful in the event that a court becomes involved in any decisions regarding division of property and wealth upon relationship break down. A primary function of a LTA would be in stating the intentions of the couple to live together and use joint resources to maintain a home and bring up children.
Further, the court is likely to follow provisions contained within the agreement if they produce a fair outcome for all members of the family and if it is shown that both partners were honest about their finances when the agreement was made.
A court will look favourably on an agreement if both parties sought the advice of family lawyers and, in particular, if the agreement was signed and witnessed as a formal ‘deed’ – a legal contract between the two parties.
Healys family lawyers in Brighton and London for cohabitation law advice
If you are an unmarried or non-civil partnered couple, the experienced family law lawyers at Healys can help advise on the drawing up of a living together agreement, or, if things have progressed unfavourably in your relationship, we can represent you in pursuing or defending a financial claim through the family law courts.
Our experienced family lawyers in Brighton and London will offer straightforward, yet sensitive, advice on your individual legal situation. In our Brighton office you can speak directly to Catherine Taylor on 01273 669 124 or e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org or all our London office on 020 7822 4000 or email London@healys.com