There is a common misconception that couples who live together acquire rights through “common law” marriage permitting one or either of them to bring a financial claim against the other on the breakdown of their relationship. In fact, there is no separate statutory code governing the breakdown of the relationship of cohabiting couples.
Unlike divorcing spouses, cohabitees must turn to complex and sometimes archaic principles of property, trust and contract law. Whilst family lawyers have campaigned for many years to improve the rights of cohabitants, the Government has, as recently as 1 November 2022, rejected calls to reform the law at this time.
It is crucial that a couple who wish to live together give proper consideration to the regulation of their financial affairs prior to commencing cohabitation. Whilst a party terminating a cohabiting relationship has no right to bring a claim against the other party for financial provision, whether of a capital or income nature, where there is a child or children of the relationship, separate statutory provision permits one parent to make a claim against the other to ensure that the reasonable housing and income needs of the children are properly provided for.
Couples who choose to live together should consider entering into a legally binding cohabitation agreement providing for certainty and security. Such agreements, if properly executed and entered into with the benefit of legal advice and full transparency, are likely to be upheld by the court and can provide financial security and protection upon the breakdown of the cohabiting relationship. A cohabitation agreement is likely to address, amongst other things, the rights and responsibilities of each of the parties in relation to their respective financial resources; including, in relation to the family home; the financial arrangements that will apply while the couple live together; a mechanism to bring the relationship to an end and the financial consequences arising.
The key benefit to giving proper consideration to a cohabitation agreement at the outset is that it can avoid costly and lengthy litigation if the relationship breaks down. An agreement can provide clarity on what will happen to assets purchased jointly during the relationship and what will happen to assets that each party has brought to the relationship.
As a firm specialising in all matters affecting private clients, we are particularly well placed to advise on property ownership, tax implications and on all financial claims including those brought on behalf of children for capital and maintenance as well as on other child related issues such as parental responsibility, residence, contact and schooling.
We give practical and pragmatic advice and aim to achieve fair solutions whilst keeping conflict to the minimum.
With top ratings in Chambers UK, Chambers HNW and The Legal 500 UK guides, the department is recognised as frequently advising in some of the most high-value and high-profile matrimonial cases in the market, including cases involving complex international aspects.
The Family Team at Payne Hicks Beach is ranked in Chambers HNW 2023. The directory writes that “Payne Hicks Beach has a highly esteemed family law department which regularly handles high-value and sophisticated matters.” “They are uniformly first rate, from the technical ability of more junior team members with day to day responsibility on a case, to the deep experience and strategic thinking offered by the partners and more senior associates.” “PHB are absolutely excellent. They are all extremely competent, and can handle really big cases without being fazed by anything.” With rankings over many years in Chambers HNW, testimonials include “They’re as good as you’ll find; they’re a class act,” says a source, explaining: “They have a lot of depth to their practice. They all have great experience and are very good to deal with.” Another comments: “They are a fantastic group of lawyers. They provide excellent advice to clients, and they have strong expertise in a range of areas. They really invest in their clients; it’s a real pleasure dealing with them.”
The Legal 500 UK 2023 describes Payne Hicks Beach LLP as a “top notch firm that does A list work for the most influential, successful and high profile clients.” The law directory expands to say that “the department is ‘outstanding’ and garners praise for its specialist advice on the full spectrum of complex family law issues often with an international dimension for high-profile individuals, entrepreneurs, UHNWs and others including members of international Royalty” and recognises that the team “is frequently instructed in cases that go to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.” “Overall it is a ‘class act with a team of great lawyers who know exactly how to run the big, difficult litigation but never lose sight of what the client wants’.” One source comments: “The PHB family team has exceptional experience of the most complex international family law disputes. Very few other firms have this level of experience. Hand-in-hand with this the firm delivers a very personal service, giving clients the assurance that both their case and their welfare are being cared for with utmost attention.”