Cohabitation Agreements (or Contracts) may be entered into by either heterosexual or same-sex couples who wish to regularise and record the terms on which they have a relationship in which they share a home or other property.
There is at present no strict legal definition of cohabitation, despite the fact it is increasingly common. Many couples set up home together without marrying or entering into a Civil Partnership, but such a relationship does not of itself create legal rights and obligations between cohabitation.
It is increasingly popular for cohabiting couples to try and regulate what should happen in the event of their relationship breaking down by entering into a Cohabitation Agreement, thereby limiting any uncertainty and (hopefully) acrimony.
Although most commonly these agreements record what will happen if a relationship between cohabitants ends, that is not their only purpose. They have the advantage of flexibility, and can include any arrangements the parties want to record about their relationship whilst it is ongoing. As a matter of law, cohabitants do not have claims against one another for maintenance. However, a Cohabitation Agreement could include a provision entitling one partner to receive periodical payments as a contractual right.
A Cohabitation Agreement is a legally binding document only to the extent that on party is prepared to take legal action against the other for any breach. Because cohabitants are not recognised in law as having a legal status, any dispute arising from a Cohabitation Agreement would not be considered by a Family Judge. The dispute would instead come before a Judge dealing with non-family law disputes, and would be decided by applying contractual principles and concepts.
Cohabitation Agreements should record the parties intentions as to the financial obligations between them which might otherwise be susceptible to testing under other legislation which might apply. For children this would be the Children Act 1989 (particularly section 8 and schedule 1), and in relation to real property, the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996. They can regulate property rights, arrangements for mutual financial support, for division of joint debt, and so on.
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Cohabitation is an area in the law regularly viewed by many in the profession as being of out of step with the growing number of cohabitees in the UK and the need for a statutory framework for the disposal of such cases. There are frequent calls for reform but until changes are made, the courts… Read more »