The Importance of Agreement between Parents

  • We have lived together for years and have children. Surely, the law treats us as if we were married?
  • What is the difference between a Declaration of Trust and a Cohabitation Agreement?
  • I have moved into his place and sold my home to do so. It is difficult as I do not know how much I should pay and what my rights are.
  • Surely these types of agreements are binding?
  • What are the criteria to increase the chance of it being accepted as a contract between us?
  • I am convinced. Is there any reason not to have one of these?

When a cohabiting couple separate it is not the same as two people getting divorced. The law treats cohabiting people very differently. Even if one partner has made financial contributions, it does not guarantee that this individual will acquire any interest in the asset that they have been contributing towards. For more information view our Cohabitation section.

Most of the problems in this area of law relate to issues that arise about who owns what share of the family home that is occupied by the couple. If that property is jointly owned, the situation is usually very clear and it should either be divided equally or in accordance with the terms of any Declaration of Trust which the parties have signed. However, if the property is legally owned by just one of the partners but the other has contributed financially, then many problems and complications may arise for the contributing party who is trying to establish that they have an interest in the property.

There are many ways to address these problems before they occur. Ideally, action should be taken at the time a valuable asset is purchased by a couple. A document about who owns what share of an asset can be prepared and this is called a Declaration of Trust. Additionally, a document called a Cohabitation Agreement can be helpful. Many people prefer to have something in writing rather than nothing at all. An agreement can clearly set out what the parties have agreed and amongst other things it will:-

'Clearly define the couple's individual financial responsibilities within the relationship; set out what interest each partner has in the other's assets and what should happen if the relationship comes to an end.'

Any such agreement cannot be totally binding. However, if a court had to become involved on the breakdown of the relationship the document is clear evidence of what the couple intended at the time it was signed. It should carry weight with any Judge who is being asked to make a decision about how the assets of the couple should be divided. Nevertheless, a Judge has the ability to exercise his/her own discretion about the decision that they reach to conclude the case.

If you are unmarried and have decided to set up home with your partner either by buying or renting, it is important to be clear at the outset of the relationship about the terms on which you will live together and how you will deal with matters if the relationship ends.

It is advisable to consider in whose name the title of the house should be held; by whom and how the mortgage or rent will be paid; what account is taken of general household contributions; what will happen in the event of a separation; how any net proceeds of sale will be divided; and if there is negative equity, how this will be covered and if the property is rented, who will transfer the lease to whom.

Resolving these issues while relations are good and strong can be relatively quick and easy. If they are left until the relationship has broken down, lengthy and expensive disputes can arise and there may be further acrimony in terms of resolving finances at an already unhappy time.

For the Cohabitation Agreement to be effective and upheld by a court the basis of the document should be that;-

  • The parties properly understand the agreement.
  • Both parties must have received separate independent legal advice, - preferably from a firm with a specialist family law department.
  • There must have been full financial disclosure by each party.
  • Special care regarding children must be included, for example reviewing the agreement when a child is born.
  • There has been no undue pressure and that both parties have had time for reflection.
  • Periodic reviews of the agreement, for example, every five years.
  • The agreement itself must be fair.


Very few solicitors specialise in Cohabitation or Living Together Agreements. Advice should therefore be sought from John C Turner, the Principal of Blackdown Family Law Solicitors, who over the course of 22 years has had constant experience of advising upon and drafting these agreements. He will be able to advise you on the most effective and efficient way of concluding matters and will work with you in order to achieve the best solution.

Areas of Family Law Work
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