There are many unmarried couples living together in long-term relationships that may not be aware of the laws that govern their relationship. Some are building towards getting married and some are simply not interested in getting married. Whatever the case may be, it is important to understand the rights and obligations couples have towards one another as cohabitants and what would happen if the relationship were to come to an end.

When partners live together for an extended amount of time their finances often become intertwined and it becomes increasingly difficult to remember exactly which goods and assets were purchased by each individual. This can create a problem when the relationship ends because each person is only entitled to keep the property that they paid for and own. Those items that are owned jointly as a couple will have to be shared proportionately, according to each individual’s interest in the asset. This means that you will have to provide proof of ownership to retain those goods, which can be quite difficult if you are not in the habit of keeping all your receipts and invoices. 

There is a common misconception in South Africa that a couple becomes married under common law if they have been living together for a certain amount of time, but in truth, our legal system has no such provision and in the eyes of the law, a couple is either married or unmarried. A cohabitation relationship, that is to say, unmarried couples living together in a relationship that resembles a marriage, is therefore not regulated by law unless a cohabitation agreement is in place. 

The Cohabitation Agreement

A cohabitation agreement is a contract between cohabitants that helps to regulate the relationship while it exists and dictates what happens after it has ended. This agreement will usually contain regulations regarding the couple’s finances and each partner's contribution to the relationship, aspects regarding any shared property, and the division of assets if the relationship comes to an end. This agreement can even be drafted to ensure that one of the parties receives maintenance payments after the couple parts ways. Parties can include any provisions they see fit, depending on their needs, as long as the provisions are not illegal or against public policy. 

A cohabitation agreement protects the rights and obligations of the couple similar to how a marriage contract would, but it should be noted that it in no way constitutes a marriage.  An unmarried couple living together can enter into this agreement at any time during the relationship and it is advised that you seek legal counsel when drafting a cohabitation agreement.

Contact Cawood Attorneys now if you wish to know more about the rights of unmarried couples. Our team of qualified attorneys are ready to assist you with any legal issues and provide you with sound legal advice to help put your mind at ease.

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