Your rights as a cohabiting couple

Most couples live together before tying the knot, or some may choose to move in but not marry at all. They are known as ‘cohabiting couples’ and, although there are over 3 million in the UK, the law does not recognise them in the same way it does people who are married or in civil partnerships.

With weddings and ceremonies postponed, and tensions in some relationships running high, we thought it might be useful to remind you of your rights if you’re part of a cohabiting couple.

There’s no such thing as a common-law marriage

Even if you have been partners for a long time and you have children together, you are not considered a couple in the eyes of the law. It is a myth that you enter a ‘common-law marriage’ after a certain number of years. This is not the case and it can make things difficult in the event of the relationship breaking down.

Property rights

Your home is likely to be the biggest asset you have accumulated throughout your relationship. Your rights to make a claim on it depend on:

  • Whether you are a joint owner, so both you and your partner’s names are on the deeds
  • If you have contributed towards it (purchase, upkeep and any major improvements made, such as building an extension) and have proof of doing so
  • If you have children living at the property

If you and your partner are joint owners, you will have equal rights to remain in the property.

If your partner is sole owner, you have no automatic legal rights. This is a complex area of law and we always advise reaching an agreement between you but, if this is not possible, you can assert your interest in the property by applying to the court. You will need to gather evidence to do this, and the judge will then decide who owns what percentage of the property.

If you have children living in the property and you have parental responsibility, whether granted by the court or received automatically, a judge may allow you and your children to stay in the home for a specified time or until the youngest child turns 18 years old.

Financial rights

Legally, cohabiting couples have no financial responsibility to one another if they separate. Although you may receive support for children from your ex-partner through the Child Maintenance Service, they are not legally obliged to provide any additional money which benefits you personally.

Finances can become further complicated if one or both of you is in debt, you don’t have your own pension or you jointly run a business and can’t agree how it should be divided up.

Parental responsibility rights

At birth of a child, responsibility for a child’s wellbeing and the legal right to make decisions for the child (including where they live, their education, religion, and receipt of medical treatment) is automatically granted to mothers.

Fathers don’t have any responsibility unless the father was registered on the child’s birth certificate, they have a Responsibility Agreement with the mother, or if the court grants him a Parental Responsibility Order.

Our recommendations

  • Always jointly register a child at birth in case you split up with your partner or if one of you dies. You don’t have to be married to do this, and the child can have a different surname to one of their registered parents. It’s also believed to be better for the child’s sense of identity and mental health if both parents are named on the birth certificate
  • Protect your assets and prevent misunderstandings with a Cohabitation Agreement. This is a legal document which sets out who can claim what in the event of separation. We can draw this up for you
  • Both of you need to make Wills and update them as circumstances change. You have no automatic rights to inherit should your partner die without one and, although you can make a claim, it is an emotionally draining and sometimes lengthy and expensive process. AGR Law can help with Will writing
  • Make sure you know what constitutes a legal marriage. Some religious marriages are recognised by their faith, but not by the law unless they comply with certain requirements. AGR Law can advise on what constitutes a legal marriage
  • Property should be registered in both names but, if this is not possible, you should draw up a declaration which states that you and your partner have equal shares

Need advice? Our friendly team can help with all matters relating to cohabitation and virtual appointments are available throughout lockdown. Give us a call on 0116 340 0094 or email to find out more