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The importance of relationship agreements

View profile for Shelley Cumbers
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 The importance of relationship agreements

There are several ways in which written agreements are significantly important for families, particularly in respect of property, financial and children issues. 

Whether you are entering into a new relationship, purchasing a home together, moving in with your partner, or involved in a divorce or separation, there are many options to consider, including entering into a written agreement with the other party.

Relationship agreements – when can they be used?

1. I have recently got engaged - how can I avoid the risk of a dispute should we encounter difficulties in our marriage later down the line?

A prenuptial agreement (often referred to as a “prenup”) can be a practical way of agreeing how your financial affairs will be dealt with in the event of your marriage unfortunately breaking down. 

Prenups are signed by the engaged couple in anticipation of marriage and before the wedding ceremony. Whilst, technically, prenups are not automatically legally binding in England and Wales, they will be given significant weight if you later divorce. The Family Court will be slow to interfere in the terms of the agreement provided it is fair to you both and the necessary safeguards have been followed during the preparation of the agreement.

2. I am facing a divorce, can we agree to financial and child arrangements and if so, how?

In most cases it is possible for a couple facing divorce to agree how their financial arrangements will be dealt to avoid the potential significant cost and delay of disputing matters through the Family Court. Provided matters are resolved amicably, you can enter into a written agreement known as a Consent Order to record the terms of a financial settlement. 

The Consent Order must be signed by you both before it is submitted to the Family Court for approval, ideally at the same time as the divorce and only once the Decree Nisi has been granted. The Consent Order will record how your respective financial claims are to be dealt with now and in the future, including any claims that you would otherwise have against your spouse’s estate. This will, in turn, provide both parties with peace of mind and certainty for the future to avoid the potential risk of future financial claims being made.  

As well as the financial arrangements, it is possible for parents whether married or unmarried, to record agreed arrangements concerning the children of the family. This may include where the children will live and how much time they will spend with each parent, any agreed arrangements for shared care following separation, as well as dealing with practical decisions such as healthcare, education and maintenance.

3. I am buying a property with my partner and we intend to live together, what should we consider?

Buying a home together is an exciting time, with lots of things to plan and organise.  However, care and legal advice should be taken if you are purchasing a property in joint names and one party is contributing more than the other to the purchase price. At the very least you should discuss this with your conveyancing lawyer at the time of purchase. You should also consider entering a Declaration of Trust which, quite simply, is a legal document recording the way the property is held, and the shares owned by you both. 

Living together outside of marriage?

If you plan to live together outside of marriage, you should consider preparing a Cohabitation Agreement. This can, amongst other things, set out:

  • how the property is owned and any entitlement either party has to a share of the property, 
  • how the mortgage repayments and utility bills will be paid, 
  • how any joint bank account will run, 
  • responsibility for structural repairs and renovations, and 
  • what will happen to the property should your relationship unfortunately break down.

The Divorce and Family team at Birkett Long advises clients on a day-to-day basis on all types of relationship agreements. To find out more about how we can help or to talk through where to start, please contact us for a no obligation free 15 minute chat on the phone.

I can be contacted on 01206 217378 or shelley.cumbers@birkettlong.co.uk.

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