A prenuptial agreement, or prenup, is a legal document that sets out the terms of a couple’s marriage, including how their assets will be divided in the event of a divorce. However, a prenup is only applicable to couples intending to marry.
Cohabiting couples can also specify how they would like to arrange their finances during the relationship. This is called a cohabitation or ‘living together’ agreement. A cohabitation agreement can also cover issues on separation such as property ownership, financial support, and responsibilities for household expenses, even who gets the dog!
It’s a very unromantic thing to discuss, so many couples don’t write prenups. Who wants to sit with a solicitor during that period in your life when even the irritating things your partner does are charming, endearing, and lovely?
But life changes. And cohabiting couples have far fewer rights than married couples. During a divorce, the courts will make fair judgements on joint and individual assets, including property, pensions and savings. But it you’re co-habiting, the only assets that will be considered that will be those in joint names. If you’re lucky, that might include a house. But even then, and most importantly, there should be a formal Declaration of Trust to reflect that.
When should you get one?
Ideally, you should make this agreement before you move in together, but you can make it at any time. It sets out arrangements for finances, property, and any children or pets you might have while you’re living together as well as if you split up, become ill or incapacitated, or die.
In our view, the law needs urgent updating in this area. Cohabitation is on the rise, whilst marriage declines. Since 1996 there has been a 144% increase in cohabiting couples, with current figures showing 3.5 million in the UK. Furthermore, in 2021, more babies were born to unmarried women (51%) in England and Wales than to married women.
To avoid any nasty surprises if your cohabiting relationship ends, a living together agreement could be the cost-effective solution that resolves financial inequality, reduces separation stress, and potentially removes personal hardship.
23 March 2023