‘Living together’ or ‘sharing’, apparently without legal ties, appeals to many young people. It is also the lifestyle of choice for some slightly older people who have had bad experiences with marriage. Although this may appear to be working for most, it is difficult to avoid the question of the legal status of live-in couples.

Live-in arrangements are not recognised as legal relationships; there is no law regulating cohabitation. Regardless of how long the partners have been living together, they do not enjoy the same rights and duties as married couples do because their relationship is not recognised by the law as a marriage.

You may think that this has little or no effect on you and your partner, but the reality is that with a shared living space come shared living expenses and often, shared assets. If you are the ultimate modern couple, you may be savvy with your money and you may even have full control over your shared livelihood, but what you and your partner need, is to sign a cohabitation agreement.

A cohabitation agreement is a legal contract between people who share a home, which contains, amongst other things, regulations regarding finances during the relationship as well as the division of property, goods and assets when the relationship comes to an end.

Okay, time for a reality check: not all relationships last. Married or not, the truth is that couples fight and break up all the time. In fact, these ‘casual relationships’ have a higher fatality (divorce) rate than real marriages.  Now, this is in no way aimed at discouraging you and undermining the strength of your relationship, this is advice to help shelter you from the rain when the storm of a breakup or a nasty fight over money and property comes. Cohabitation agreements are to live-in relationships, what home and car insurance is to your house and car – a safeguard.

There is a plethora of problems that could arise from cohabiting. Just to mention a few:

  • One partner has credit and the other does not.
  • One partner makes most payments or comes in with more furniture, or maybe even owns the apartment.
  • Although the general understanding is that the parties go 50/50 on everything; generally, the woman will usually end up contributing more as she will not only pitch in her monetary share in the living expenses, she will also play the role of a homemaker.

The list could go on and on, the point is that every relationship is a financial one and with any relationship there is always trouble. Contracts are necessary to create certainty. Some problems can be solved or avoided, by simply looking at a clause in an agreement.

By their very nature, contracts are there to solve problems that have not yet arisen. To account for the changing times, your cohabitation agreement needs to be dynamic; it should grow with your relationship.

Telephone: +27 31 570 5337; Email: roger.knowles@gb.co.za


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