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Agreements when living together

Moving in with a partner is a big step. This page looks at things you need to think about before taking the plunge. At this stage, you won't want to think about what will happen if things go wrong and you split up, but it's important to know your rights and be prepared. It is recommended to set up a Co-habitation agreement also known as a "living together agreement" as if you end up splitting up, you will have no legal rights to property or possessions.

Moving in with a partner can be exciting and fun. It may also be more convenient than living separately, and will often work out cheaper as well. However, it's important that you think through carefully the implications of living together as a couple. It's not just a question of adapting to another person's lifestyle and fighting over the TV remote control: living together as a couple can affect your finances and your right to stay in your home.

You can download a checklist of things to think about when you move in with your partner.

Things to think about

The things you will need to think about when you move in with your partner may vary depending on your age and other personal circumstances. For example, if you are a young person moving in with a partner for the first time, you may need to think about setting ground rules to avoid arguments over bills, hogging the bathroom and whose turn it is to do the washing up. If you are a home owner, you'll need to decide what kind of financial contribution your partner will make to the running of the home. If you have children, you will need to make sure that your rights to stay in the home are as secure as possible.

At this stage in your relationship, you probably don't want to think about splitting up, but it's important to consider what your rights will be if things go wrong later on. Will your partner be able to throw you out of your home? Will you be able to ask them to leave? Will you be financially dependent on your partner to pay the rent, mortgage or bills? What would happen if they stopped paying their share? If you are not married or in a civil partnership, you could find yourself with very limited rights.

Cohabitation contracts

If you want to formalise your living arrangements, you and your partner can draw up a cohabitation contract  or "living together agreement" setting out the rights and responsibilities you both have. This could include details of, for example:

  • how you will divide up and pay the rent or mortgage and household bills
  • childcare arrangements
  • what rights you each have to stay in the home if you split up
  • what rights you will have to any shared belongings (for example, furniture or a car) if you split up.

Drawing up a contract will make you think through the issues you'll be facing as a couple and could help you avoid future arguments over bills and other domestic responsibilities. In addition, it will provide proof of your original intentions when you moved in together, which could help you resolve your situation amicably should you split up.

The contract will not be legally binding unless it is drawn up by a solicitor. Even then, you won't be able to enforce it in court if it contains unfair terms or is not in the best interests of any children you may have.

What are our options?

There are various options for living together:

  • getting a new place together - either renting accommodation or buying a home
  • moving into your partner's home
  • asking your partner to move into your home.

Renting accommodation together

If you have decided to rent a room or flat together, there are lots of things you'll need to consider.

Where will we live?

You may want to put your name down on the waiting list for accommodation from the council or a housing association or cooperative. Council tenancies offer slightly more protection and flexibility for partners than private tenancies, for example, council landlords can transfer tenancies from one partner to the other.

Unfortunately, council waiting lists can be long, and you may have to consider renting privately in the meantime. The section on finding private rented accommodation has more useful information on things to think about when looking for a place to rent.

Whose name should go on the tenancy agreement?

You'll also need to decide whether you want to have separate tenancies or a joint tenancy, or whether just one of you will have the tenancy in their name. Each of these options gives you different rights - read the page on your rights if you rent together to find out more.

Bear in mind the following:

  • If you have a joint tenancy, you and your partner will be jointly and individually responsible for paying the rent. This means that if your partner can't or won't pay their share, you will have to pay it for them.
  • If your name is not on the tenancy agreement and you aren't married or in a civil partnership, you won't have many rights, and may well have to move out if you and your partner split up.

Moving into a partner's rented home

Is the partner allowed to move in?

If one partner is moving into accommodation the other partner rents, it's important that you clear this with the landlord first. Most tenancy agreements give the tenant the right to live in the property along with their husband, wife or partner, their children and other members of their family. However, it's best to check first. If the tenancy agreement doesn't allow the tenant to move their partner in, you may both find yourselves evicted.

If anything goes wrong with your relationship, the non-tenant will be in a stronger position if the landlord knows they are living there. For example, if the tenant moves out, the landlord may be prepared to transfer the tenancy into the non-tenant's name.

What kind of tenancy agreement will we have?

If a tenant's partner is moving in with the landlord's permission, they won't need to have a tenancy agreement of their own. However, if you are not married, the non-tenant won't have many rights, and may well have to move out if you split up.

The non-tenant could consider asking the landlord to make them a joint tenant with their partner. To do this, your landlord will need to issue you both with a new joint tenancy agreement. If you have a joint tenancy, you and your partner will be jointly and individually responsible for paying the rent. This means that if your partner can't or won't pay their share, you will have to pay it for them.

The page on your rights if you rent together has more information.

If I'm renting from my partner, does this give me any more rights?

If you pay rent to your partner, this will make them your landlord. If you have a part of the home that is exclusively yours (for example, a bedroom or study), this will make you a common law tenant. In this case, your partner shouldn't evict you without getting a court order. However, in practice, you will probably have to leave after they've given you reasonable notice, or run the risk of paying their court costs.

If you don't pay rent to your partner, you will be a non-tenant occupier. This means your partner will be within their rights to ask you to leave whenever they like, although they should give you reasonable notice first. They can even change the locks on the doors when you're out if they don't want you to get back into the property.

Buying a home together

If you and your partner are buying a home together, you need to decide who will be the legal owner and what financial share each of you will have in the property. Otherwise, it may be difficult to agree what you are each entitled to if your relationship breaks down. If you own the home jointly, your partner cannot force you to leave without a court order. Nor can they sell the home without your consent, unless they get a court order.

Moving into a home your partner owns

If you move into your partner's home, you will have very few rights unless you are married or in a civil partnership. If you split up, you won't be able to get back any money you put into the home (for example, money you paid towards the mortgage, repairs or improvements) unless you have a written legal agreement setting out what you are entitled to.

Therefore, before you move in, it's important that you and your partner agree on some ground rules. For example, you may agree that you will only make payments towards general household expenses such as bills and a share in the mortgage, and you won't pay anything towards repairs and improvements. In return, you won't expect a financial share of the home should you split up. Or you may agree that you will have a financial share - this may be the case if, for example, you have given up your own home to move in with your partner, or you have children.

Speak to your solicitor about this - this kind of agreement may not seem very romantic, but it's important you have one in place, especially if you are putting a lot of money into your partner's home or have given up your own home in order to move in.

The pages on buying a home with other people and your rights if you or your partner own your home explain more.

Setting ground rules

Once you've sorted out all the official stuff, you may want to lay down a few ground rules too. If you've been used to living independently, you may find living with a partner a little restrictive at first. Living together involves a lot of compromise, so setting ground rules could help prevent arguments later on. For example, you may want to decide:

  • Who will be responsible for the washing, cooking, cleaning and other domestic chores?
  • If you're going to be home late, should you phone to let your partner know? You may not think this is important, but your partner might be worried if you're late.
  • Should you ask your partner before inviting friends to stay?
  • Would you like to get a pet? What does your partner think of this?

If you are drawing up a cohabitation contract, you may want to include some of these ground rules in the agreement.

Financial issues

You'll also need to consider how you and your partner will divide up the financial responsibilities of renting or owning a home. This is something you can include in a cohabitation contract, if you wish.

Rent, mortgage, bills and council tax

If you own your home jointly, you will both be jointly and individually responsible for paying the rent or mortgage and council tax . If only one person rents or owns the home, they alone will be responsible for paying the rent or mortgage, although you will both still be liable for paying the council tax and utility bills (gas and/or electricity).

You'll also need to decide how to deal with all the household bills, for example for gas, electricity, telephone, insurance, TV licence and also for food, cleaning products, toiletries and other day-to-day expenses. Whose name will the bills be in? How will you divide the payments? You may wish to open a joint account to set aside the money for the rent or mortgage and bills.

Benefits

If you are claiming benefits, moving in with your partner may affect the amount of money you receive. Once you and your partner live together, the benefits agency will take into account their income when calculating how much money you should get. This applies to same sex couples who are not in a civil partnership, as well as opposite sex couples who aren't married.

You must inform the relevant benefits agencies (for example, the council's housing benefit department or the Department for Work and Pensions) if you move in with your partner or your partner moves in with you. They will then check whether this affects your benefits. If they find out they have been overpaying you, you will have to pay the money back, and you could even be prosecuted for fraud.

Pensions

If you have a work or personal pension, you should be able to nominate your partner to receive the pension or any 'death in service' benefits should you die (this is a lump sum that is paid out if you die before retirement). Speak to your human resources (HR) department or your pension provider if you would like to do this. You can change this nomination at any time.

Should I make a will?

Nobody wants to think about dying, but it's important to decide what will happen to your possessions when you die, particularly if you're buying a home, getting married, entering a civil partnership, or starting a family. Many people assume that when they die, their possessions, including their home, will automatically go to their wife or husband, their partner or their children, but this is not necessarily the case. Read our page on making a will to find out more.

What happens if we split up?

If you split up, your rights will depend on your situation. The section on relationship breakdown explains this in more detail.

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