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Living together after lockdown: what you need to know legally

Living together after lockdown: When Boris locked down the country in March the government advised people in relationships to decide: move in together right now or be prepared not to see each other for the foreseeable.

Some couples said their goodbyes with a speedy lockdown break-up; some decided to live apart and embrace continuing their relationship online; others decided to fast-track their relationship and move into together much quicker than they intended. 

These new cohabiting couples added to the more than 3.5 million unmarried couples living together in the UK (ONS). Many of them totally unaware of the limited legal protection they have if the relationship breaks down with a belief that being a ‘common-law’ wife or husband offers them some legal rights. 

The truth is that unmarried couples living together do NOT have the same rights as married couples or those who have entered into a civil partnership.

In fact, 

Cohabitants have little or no legal protection at the end of a relationship.

There is no ability to share property unless it is jointly owned. If the house is in one parties name (on the title deeds), the prospects of seeking a share of this asset are significantly reduced if you are not married.

The weaker financial party has no right to claim maintenance from the other who may well be in a much stronger financial position; for example, if one has sacrificed a career to bring up a family.

There can be no sharing of pension rights.

Living together after lockdown

As lockdown eases you may have decided to make your new living arrangements permanent. 

This is an exciting time in your relationship and also the ideal time to have an honest conversation about the financial arrangements between you both.

For example, what will you each contribute to the rent/mortgage and the bills? 

It is also worthwhile talking through ownership of the property, will it remain in one person’s name? 

Potentially awkward conversations but an upfront discussion along with some advice from a family lawyer about the legal options available can potentially save some heartache and financial stress further down the line.

Three legal considerations for couples cohabiting 

Cohabitation agreement

A legally drawn-up cohabitation agreement can provide unmarried couples with the clarity that they need.

A cohabitation agreement can be entered into at any time during a relationship – they are not restricted to when couples first start living together.

A cohabitation agreement can address: 

  • Ownership of the property;
  • How you pay your rent, mortgage or other household bills;
  • Your finances such as what happens to any joint accounts or pensions;
  • Division of household items in the event of separation even down to who gets the dog.

There is scope to add other clauses but these must not become too trivial such as who does the household cleaning.

Declaration of Trust

A declaration of trust is a document that confirms the proportions in which two or more individuals own a property, regardless of how the property was owned at the beginning of the relationship. 

A declaration of trust can record the financial contributions both parties have made towards its purchase or reflect another agreement as to how the net value or equity in the property would be split in the event of a future sale between the parties regardless of financial contributions. 

The advantage of a declaration of trust is that it can help avoid a costly dispute if the relationship ends.

Make a will

It is also important to make a valid will. If you were to die without leaving a will, under the rules of intestacy, unmarried cohabitees do not inherit.

Get in touch 

If you would like any legal advice on living together after lockdown please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist cohabitation lawyers here. 

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Stitchedup says:

    “The advantage of a declaration of trust is that it can help avoid a costly dispute if the relationship ends.”

    The costly dispute will probably involve a claim under constructive trusts… bloody expensive and with no hard facts/proof presented, wide open to interpretation and bias in the exercise of judicial discretion.

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