Understanding your property rights in cohabitation agreements

When a couple decides to live together, the legal implications can sometimes take a backseat amidst the excitement of moving in together.

One important step that couples should consider when living together is obtaining a cohabitation agreement.

By discussing and creating a cohabitation agreement, couples can proactively address potential issues and establish a clear framework for their shared life, ensuring that both parties feel secure and protected.

What rights do cohabitees have?

It is a common misconception that cohabiting couples have similar legal protections as civil partnerships or married ones. This not the case.

In England, common law marriages do not exist, which means couples who live together but are not married, have limited legal protection.

Consequently, this discrepancy often leads to complications, as many cohabiting couples only become aware of their limited rights when their relationship breaks down, resulting in potential disputes.

In the event of a relationship breakdown, it is crucial to seek independent legal advice to ensure any disputes are resolved swiftly and amicably.

Property implications

The ownership of property can become a contentious issue when a cohabiting relationship ends.

Property ownership is typically determined by the title deeds, meaning that if your name is not listed on them, it is generally assumed that you have no ownership or stake in the property.

Consequently, you would also not be entitled to any proceeds, should the property be sold.

Additionally, if your name is not included in the title deeds, you do not possess a legal right to remain in the property, in the event of a relationship breakdown.

Proving ownership of a share in a property becomes challenging if you are not listed on the title deeds.

This requires demonstrating an agreement or mutual understanding with your partner regarding shared ownership of the property.

Furthermore, you need to demonstrate that adverse outcomes have been experienced due to relying on that agreement, such as investing money in acquiring or improving the property, or directly paying the mortgage.

Resolving such claims usually involves costly court proceedings for both parties, with uncertain outcomes, and so it is advisable to avoid court proceedings wherever possible.

Joint tenancy arrangements

In a joint tenancy arrangement, both parties possess an equal share of the entire property. This option is commonly preferred by couples when purchasing a house together.

If the relationship ends, joint tenants have several options.

They may mutually decide to vacate the property and sell it, with the proceeds divided equally.

Alternatively, one individual may opt to remain in the property and buy out the other party’s 50 per cent share, allowing them to continue living there.

In situations where both partners desire to retain ownership but are unable to reach a resolution, the matter may need to be resolved through legal proceedings.

How to prevent property disputes in cohabitation agreements? Be clear on ownership from the start

One of the fundamental aspects of preventing property disputes in cohabitation agreements revolves around setting clear expectations and boundaries from the outset.

As you start on your shared journey, it is critical to be detailed and transparent about who owns what.

Engage a legal professional

While it is possible to create a cohabitation agreement on your own, consulting with a legal professional can ensure your agreement is comprehensive and legally enforceable.

A solicitor experienced in family or property law will be familiar with common disputes and issues that arise and can guide you in addressing them proactively.

Each party should seek independent legal advice. This helps to ensure that each person’s interests are adequately protected and the agreement is fair and balanced.

While moving in together can be a joyous step for couples, it is essential to understand the legal implications and potential challenges that might arise.

Creating a cohabitation agreement might not be the most romantic endeavour, but it is a practical step that can provide crucial protection for both parties.

For help and advice with cohabitation agreements, please get in touch with Alison Green, Head of our Family and Relationship Team at Mackrell.Solicitors on +44 (0) 20 7240 0521 or at alison.green@mackrell.com

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Alison Green
Alison has more than 25 years’ experience assisting clients with Family and Relationship matters. Her expertise covers matrimonial work, including divorce and the associated financial and children issues; pre and post-nuptial agreements; co-habitation disputes; civil partnership agreements and the breakdown of civil partnerships.