Moving in with a partner is an extremely happy and exciting time for a couple, particularly when it marks your first step onto the property ladder.
Before the bags have even been unpacked, your thoughts will turn to 'happy ever after' and all that comes with it; as well they should.
Amidst this wonderful experience, you might not give much thought to the legal rights you will be acquiring as soon as you start living together but it is without question worth spending some time making sure you are entering this next phase of your life with your eyes wide open.
Since 2006, couples living together in Scotland have been legally entitled to certain shared household goods, money and property in the event of a relationship breakdown. On top of that, couples will be liable for any joint debt accumulated by the couple while living together and they may also be exposed to claims arising from any economic disadvantage suffered by one partner as a result of the relationship. While the situation is slightly different in England and Wales, legal contracts between couples living together are increasingly necessary as people merge assets and lives without getting married.
Unthinkable as a breakup in the future might be, it is both responsible and sensible to prepare in the present by entering into a cohabitation agreement. This will ensure that your 'happily ever after' will not degrade into an ever-lasting legal nightmare if you ever do part ways.
As with any contract, the devil is in the detail, and it is important to make sure that your co-habitation agreement is correctly prepared for all practicalities.
Here are five key clauses which will help protect you against a messy legal battle if the worst ever happens:
1. Capital reimbursement: If you have purchased a property together, who will be reimbursed what in the event that the relationship breaks down?
2. Mortgage payments: Who will pay what towards the monthly mortgage repayments, during and after the relationship, and what percentage of ownership will this prescribe?
3. Additional contributions: How will any large capital contributions towards the property/mortgage be dealt with in the event of a breakup?
4. Jointly purchased assets: What is to happen to any items such as furniture or cars bought together during the course of the relationship?
5. Debt: What is to happen to any debts incurred by either party in the interests of the couple during the course of the relationship?
For many couples, the thought of ever breaking up seems so remote that it isn't worth thinking about. Sadly, it is often the very same people who end up embroiled in an expensive, unpredictable court battle where 'happy ever after' couldn't be further from the truth. A good cohabitation agreement is designed to avoid this scenario and to protect both of your individual interests while fairly dividing up any mutual assets.
Far from being a nail in the coffin of a relationship, a cohabitation agreement makes the practical side of living together simpler and clearer. Just make sure you've covered all your bases properly - the list above is a good place to start.