Recent statistics suggest that there are currently some 6 million couples cohabiting in the UK, more than double the figure 20 years ago. For many couples, there are notable benefits to remaining unmarried – with the money saved from not having a wedding allowing a greater deposit to be put towards a property purchase for example. For others, marriage is simply not a path they want to follow or a wedding is something they never get round to arranging.

Whatever the reason for remaining unmarried, when couples move in together – it is important that they understand their legal position. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’ – and the law does little to protect either party in a cohabiting situation in its current form.

Having seen many situations in which cohabiting couples have separated, leaving a financial tangle to unravel and often resulting in an undesirable outcome for at least one party, a sensible approach to consider is entering a cohabitation agreement. Such an agreement can be drafted before a couple move in together (or shortly afterwards) and sets out who owns what legally and how any residential property (i.e. one or more houses) are to be owned going forward.

The agreement will usually detail how much the parties have contributed to the property deposit, any renovation works and mortgage repayments – so both parties can be sure of their position if the worst happens and they need to separate.

A cohabitation agreement is particularly important if there are children involved in the relationship. Where one party has taken time off to care for the child(ren) and has therefore been able to make less of a contribution to the ongoing costs of owning a property, it might be a good idea for the agreement to reflect this.

Whilst one would hope the cohabitation agreement never needed to be called upon, it is a useful starting point from which to start negotiations if a separation occurs. From a collaborative law perspective, setting out your intentions in such a way at the start of your cohabiting life together is much more conducive to being able to agree an amicable arrangement down the line; should it reach a point where you no longer want to live together.