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Co-Habiting Couples Need to Get House in Order

View profile for Catherine Wheatcroft
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Unmarried couples need to take steps to prevent bruising court battles if they split up, warns a leading family law expert.

Simon Leach, of Family Law Group said legal battles over co-habiting couples are being increasingly highlighted in the profession and the onus is upon legal professionals to get the message across to the public that they need to take steps to protect themselves.

“There are more than twice the number of co-habiting couples living in the UK than 20 years ago and far too many of them are leaving themselves in great danger financially if they separate,” he warned.     

“Some people think that they have ‘common-law rights’, but there is no such thing,” he added.

“Without the safeguard of marriage or a civil partnership, there is very little protection so you need to see a Solicitor to ensure that if you split up, both of you can move on without being embroiled in a financial feud.”

He suggested that writing a Co-habitation Agreement showing what assets are being brought to the relationship and how they should be divided if the relationship breaks down is a sensible move.

“Co-habiting couples have no rights to stay in a property or take any assets not owned by them so long-term partners need a Cohabitation Agreement or Declaration of Trust, setting out how assets would be distributed if they separate,” he said.

Mr Leach, whose firm is based in Nottingham, added that currently there are an estimated six million co-habiting couples in the UK and in recent years, campaigners have called for greater legal protection, but so far the government has not taken action.

“Family life is incredibly complex compared to a generation or two ago,” he said. “In many areas, the law has not moved with the times and in the case of couples living together this is certainly true,” he warned.

“The importance of getting the message across to individuals that they have to look after themselves and put in place legal safeguards is vital,” he said.

“We as legal professionals have to make sure this message gets across for the good of society.”