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Landmark ruling prompts ‘cohabitation agreement’ warning

The importance of having a legal agreement in place between cohabiting couples has been highlighted by a landmark legal ruling.

In the case, a man was ordered to pay his ex-girlfriend more than £28,000 after they separated, because, the court heard, he ‘led her to believe that she would have the sort of security that a wife would have.’

Under normal circumstances, an unmarried couple have no rights to claim a share in assets or property belonging to a partner if they are not married.

Now Helen Lucking, partner in the Family team at Napthens, has warned that the ruling could have a wide impact on the law and highlighted the need for couples to draw up cohabitation agreements as a way to protect their interests.

Helen said: “These agreements may not be what most couples want to think about when they are planning to, for instance, acquire property or make a similar significant investment with a partner.

However, this case has thrown into the spotlight exactly why this can be a good idea. The court heard that the woman in the case moved out of her own accommodation with her children and into a property acquired by the man.

“He promised her the same security that a wife would have, but in the end the couple split up. It was the court’s decision that he could not back out of this promise, and he should give her a £28,500 stake in the property.

“If a cohabitation agreement had been in place it may have helped avoid court proceedings entirely.

“I would encourage couples to take advice at an early stage before moving in together, to stop such a situation arising. If it has happened once, future legal decisions may be guided by this one.”