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Neil Dring
Legal Features Writer
1:00 AM 27th January 2024
family

Making The ‘Living Together’ Leap? Here’s The Advice You Seek

 
Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay
Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay
At the start of a new year many couples take the plunge to embark on the next stage of their lives and set up home together.

Amid the flurry of excitement and celebrations, it’s also important to consider the practical and legal implications of these momentous decisions.

Statistics from family law group Resolution reveal that almost 50 per cent of unmarried couples are unaware that they do not have the same legal rights as a married couple should they separate - or if one of them dies.

This lack of protection extends to savings, income, pensions, business interests and property. Unlike married couples who split up, there is no clear and simple process for them to divide their assets or claim help for childcare costs from an ex-partner so they can work.

The findings heighten concerns that cohabiting couples may feel forced to put up with an unhappy and (possibly) unhealthy relationship because they fear financial hardship if they break up.

As a niche family law firm, we strongly recommend that unmarried partners consider a cohabitation or ‘living together’ agreement to help them decide what happens while they are together and if they split up.

The agreement sets out who owns what and in what proportion. It also confirms how property will be divided along with what will happen with personal belongings, savings, debts, pensions and other assets on separation.

Documenting how children will be supported, the contract outlines how to deal with bank accounts, debts and joint purchases such as a house or car, along with pet ‘custody’ issues.

A cohabitation agreement can be drafted before or during a couple’s time together. It can also be amended as long as both parties agree that the original agreement should be changed, and how.

The arrangement is enforceable and can be set up through virtual “roundtable” meetings within the collaborative process and can reduce the likelihood of cohabitees being left destitute.

It is important that each party seeks independent legal advice and discloses all financial information in the lead up to signing the agreement, which should be reviewed regularly.

Jones Myers is a long-standing supporter of Resolution’s campaign where proposed reforms include cohabitees meeting eligibility criteria which gives them an automatic right to apply for certain financial remedies if they later separate.

Our family lawyers have extensive experience in drafting cohabitation agreements and, sadly, in dealing with disputes arising from separations where there has been no such agreement.

Setting this safeguard in place can potentially save emotional and financial heartache at a later stage should one partner leave the relationship, win the lottery - or die.

Neil Dring is a senior family law specialist at Jones Myers. Neil has almost four decades of expertise in divorce and financial settlements arising from relationship breakdowns.