The wisdom of couples putting cohabitation agreements in place before they move in together is obvious.
They are a highly effective way of protecting the assets and wealth that each person brought to the relationship, safeguarding them against the possibility of leaving the relationship worse off than when they entered it.
Francesca Flood, a commercial litigation solicitor at Carter Lemon Camerons, says that cohabitation agreement can be drawn up in such a way as to reflect the specific needs of a couple and can include provisions such as how much each person will contribute towards household expenditure and the arrangements that will apply should the relationship end. It could even define the specific actions that constitute the end of the relationship, such as infidelity or one of the couple moving out.
However, for all the hard-headed logic of putting a cohabitation agreement in place, for many people, broaching it can be an extremely difficult, emotionally fraught, task. It certainly isn’t very romantic.
So how should you start a conversation with your partner about drawing up a cohabitation agreement?
Firstly, it is something that you should draw up together. An agreement prepared by yourself and presented to your partner to sign without any independent legal advice is unlikely to be upheld by the courts.
Instead, it is worth sitting down together to discuss and talk through the practical considerations involved in moving in and cohabiting. There will be bills to pay, household chores to complete and even decisions about whose furniture and possessions are kept in the shared home.
The exact conversation you have will depend on your specific circumstances, such as whether you are buying a home together or whether one of you is moving into the home owned by the other person.
This type of conversation is virtually unavoidable – you have to know where the money is coming from to pay for your home and to pay your bills. You also need to know what you get in return for your money. This is the ideal time to raise the possibility of a cohabitation agreement.
However, it can still be challenging, even in this context.
If you find that your partner is not keen to discuss the possibility of drawing up a cohabitation agreement, a good analogy to use might be that of a Will or life insurance – both of which would be prudent investments when you move in together. Just like insurance, a cohabitation agreement exists to protect you and your loved ones, is never meant to be used but can exist in the background, just in case it is needed one day.
It is also important to explain to your partner that a cohabitation agreement can protect both of you, not just the wealthier individual. Depending on the precise agreement reached, the less wealthy partner can find that they are actually better off at the end of the relationship than they might have been had the cohabitation agreement not been made.
Another point you can make to a reluctant partner is that you have obligations to other people, such as children or to family members who have gifted assets to you. It is completely justified for you to explain that it is important in these circumstances to protect your existing assets.
Remember, it is entirely reasonable to seek a cohabitation agreement, and doing so does not call into question the strength of the relationship. In fact, it is more likely to be an indication of the strength of a relationship, showing that you are able to have a mature discussion about what might happen in the future and how you would deal with it if it does.
Once you have both agreed to draw up an agreement, the next step is to instruct solicitors and seek independent legal advice.