By Deborah Levy, consultant in the Family Law team

There are probably very few people whose lives and relationships have not been affected in one way or another by the pandemic. Increased working from home has meant that many have had to consider their housing and other needs. At one time, open-plan living – knocking down walls to make one large living, come dining, come cooking area was the fashion, now it seems many need more space and we also often want to live closer to our loved ones and friends. A young family working at home, will need to know that they can secure some peace and quiet so that they are not embarrassed by the toddler who walks into an important video meeting or that in lockdown they can preserve their relationship by heading off to another room, rather than feeling totally hemmed in by their other half. 

In addition to the pressures on those who already live together, lockdown (or quasi-lockdown) has seen many relationships escalate from boyfriend/girlfriend relationships to cohabiting arrangements. I have seen many adult children of friends decide to seize the moment and move in with each other, sometimes as their concerned parents look on wondering how their son or daughter can protect funds they have may have built up in the property themselves or funds which either they, grandparents or other family members may have given them. Equally, they may be considering gifting or loaning funds to help them move onto or up the property ladder. How best to protect these funds, should all go wrong?

First and foremost, with any new property purchase, unless contributions are going to be equal, a Trust Deed setting out the respective shares the parties own is essential as well as addressing the mechanism for purchasing the other’s share and/or sale of the property if the purpose of the purchase has come to an end – on separation and/or death. In addition to a Trust Deed, a Cohabitation Agreement will reinforce the terms of the Trust Deed as well as address related arrangements and agreements – who is to pay for what, in which proportions, purchases for the property and their division such as furniture and furnishings, notice periods to vacate/sell and so on.

Whilst so many couples have had to postpone their wedding day, some are now opting for a smaller immediate wedding, with a larger party to follow in the future. The benefits of entering into a Pre-Nuptial Agreement must not be forgotten especially when there are pre-marital and/or inherited resources or future resources to protect.

Everyone’s situation is different and most of us have been affected by the current situation in different ways. What is certain, is that sound legal advice to protect one’s assets is key to providing as much certainty as possible.