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A lesson learnt: put your cohabitation agreement in writing

Sep 28, 2017   ·   3 minute read

On Monday Gillian Turner was dealt a hard blow when a judge ruled that she didn’t have a claim against her ex-partner’s property business. The Telegraph and other newspapers reported that Ms Turner collapsed in Court when the decision went against her.

Ms Turner was in a relationship with her partner, Mr Durant, for over 20 years. They had a child together but eventually split up in 2014. After they went their separate ways Ms Turner said that while they were living together Mr Durant had promised to marry her and had agreed that she should have a share in his property business. Mr Durant denied this conversation had taken place .Accordingly Ms Turner sued Mr Durant. As the couple couldn’t reach an agreement ultimately the decision was down to a judge and the judge ruled in favour of Mr Durant.

In coming to her decision the judge made it clear that she was influenced by the fact that nothing about the promise to marry and, more importantly, the discussion about the sharing of Mr Durant’s property business had been put in writing, despite the trust issues between the couple and their reportedly stormy relationship.

It is the judge’s job to assess the witnesses and make a decision based on what the judge has seen in the witness box. The success or failure of a claim can therefore be very difficult to predict, in the absence of any supporting paperwork, such as a cohabitation agreement or bank statements or building work invoices.

As a specialist family finance solicitor nowadays much of my time is spent trying to make sure that couples don’t find themselves locked in the sort of Court battle that Ms Turner and her ex-partner found themselves in. If a couple commit to living together then they need to draw up a cohabitation agreement to record what they have agreed about the sharing of property, business assets and money if they split up. It is just as important that they both draw up Wills.

A cohabitation agreement can be as broad or as detailed as a couple chose. What most people don’t realise is that a cohabiting couple need an agreement whether or not they own property in their own names or jointly with their partner. That is because even if a house, investment or business asset is owned by one partner the other party to the relationship can still make a property or financial claim based on verbal or written promises, trust and property law.  The cost, risks and uncertainty of Court litigation can be avoided or significantly reduced by a cohabitation agreement.

You may wonder why cohabitation agreements are not more commonplace. The answer is that most couples don’t realise the sorts of property and financial claims that can be made on relationship breakdown and how straightforward it is to get a solicitor to draw up a cohabitation agreement. Sadly it takes publicity such as Ms Turner’s collapse in Court and her distress at the outcome of her Court case to highlight the importance of a cohabitation agreement.

For help in drawing up a cohabitation agreement or to ask any questions about agreements, including what we would charge for them (we can normally prepare them for a fixed fee) please contact me on 01625 728012 or by email at