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“Creating Certainty” For Unmarried Couples

Family Law Specialists Emphasise Importance Of Advice


Unmarried couples thinking about the future have been advised by a family law expert at Irwin Mitchell to seek legal advice about protecting themselves in the event of a relationship breakdown, as ministers bring talk of a reform of the rights in the area to an end.

Following more than five years of research and reporting by the government and Law Commission on the rights of unmarried couples, it has been confirmed that there are no plans to consider any changes to cohabitation law in the Parliamentary term.

However, while some specialists have questioned where the move leaves the very many couples who live together but remain unmarried, Alison Hawes, a Partner and family law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Bristol office, has reminded co-habitees that they do not have to exchange wedding rings to get some rights in their relationships.

Alison explains: “The government’s decision to bring an end to talk of cohabitation rights reforms does not mean that unmarried couples are left with few options when it comes to protecting themselves in case of relationship breakdown.

“Many people crave security and certainty in a relationship and specialist advice on the issue of cohabitation can help if couples do want to consider what would happen if they split.”

Discussing particular options, Alison outlined: “It is always sensible for couples who decide to own property jointly together to enter into a simple Declaration of Trust that explains their shares. Something so simple can save many thousands of pounds and heartache in the event of separation

“In addition, living together agreements can also regulate financial arrangements, bank accounts, life insurance and wills in a manner which makes sure that the couple are protected. 

“Whilst co-habitation agreements are not very fashionable, or perhaps perceived as anti romantic like a prenuptial agreement, they are legally binding and can serve a very useful purpose.

“However, it must be remembered that the agreements need specialist legal advice and must concentrate on legal and financial issues - an agreement that promises that one person will do the washing up every other Thursday is not likely to be enforceable in English Law.”

Alison added that, despite the government’s announcement regarding cohabitation, the issue is not one which is likely to go away anytime soon.

She advised: “We are waiting for an important decision to be handed down by the Supreme Court next month – related to the case of an unmarried couple who are locked in a battle over the ownership of a property they lived in together.

“This is the first really high-profile legal battle of its kind and there is every chance it could provide clarity and real certainty once and for all for unmarried couples who live together.”