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Why Cohabitation Agreements Can Protect Cohabiting Heterosexual Couples

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Unmarried cohabiting couples are urged to consider the implications of the recent High Court decision to uphold the government’s refusal to grant civil partnerships to heterosexual couples - leaving them with no legal rights or protection in the event of death or separation.

In Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education, it was ruled that the UK was not obliged to extend civil partnership to heterosexuals, just because it had allowed gay couples to marry. The couple in question is appealing the decision.

It means that, while gay people can wed or form civil partnerships - which have the same status and protection as marriage - heterosexual couples are restricted to either staying single or getting married.

This presents an interesting legal issue as there has been support for many years for another form of official acknowledgement apart from marriage, given the long-standing and significant difference in legal position between cohabitees and married couples.

There are no clear rules in England and Wales on protecting separating cohabitees - no matter how long they have lived together. A cohabitee will not usually be automatically entitled to anything upon the death of their partner, in the absence of a will.

Death or separation can lead to complications - which the law is poorly equipped to address - and which can result in expensive litigation to resolve.

Whatever the result of the appeal, we advise unmarried couples to set up a cohabitation agreement for peace of mind, should the worst happen.

The agreement will establish the following:

  • Who will own the home you live in or intend to live in – and, if jointly, how it should be shared
  • Who will pay the bills including any improvements or renovations to the home
  • What will happen to the property if the relationship ends or should one of you die
  • Whether the survivor can stay in the property after the other’s death and for how long
  • How children, including any from previous relationships, will be provided for upon death or separation

Setting an agreement in place avoids financial and emotional trauma later on and hlw Keeble Hawson's experienced team of family and will and estate planning specialists can work with you to discuss your specific circumstances and what you need to consider.

For more information contact Vanessa Fox on 0114 290 6232 or email

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