The Legal Rights of Cohabiting Couples

A common cultural misconception in the UK is that if you’ve been cohabiting with a partner for a certain amount of time you gain similar rights to those couples who are married or in a civil partnership.  The reality of rights for cohabiting couples is far from this.  Cohabitation rights pale in comparison to the rights of those who are legally married or in a civil partnership and the concept of “common law husband and wife” hasn’t existed in England and Wales since 1753.  Despite this, increasing amounts of people are choosing to cohabit without marrying or having a civil partnership, making proper dissemination of the facts about cohabitation even more urgent.  This article will give a brief overview of exactly what cohabiting couples are entitled to (or not entitled to) in terms of housing and financial security and in the context of your partner dying or your relationship ending.

Cohabitation: a definition

Cohabitation is not legally defined in the UK.  Whether you’ve stayed with a short-term partner a few years ago when between flats or you’ve lived in a house with your partner for 8 years, in the eyes of the law, the latter situation gives you no more rights than the former on its own.  Offering a cohabitation definition then is useful only to describe your relationship to others and to yourself; legally it doesn’t mean a lot.

Living Together Agreement:

A cohabiting couple can be recognised on a case by case basis if the couple has drawn up something called a “living together agreement”.  Although this agreement isn’t totally legally binding, it is likely to be held up in court if it produces a fair result for both parties and you were both honest about your financial situation when you drew up the agreement.  A court is even more likely to uphold such an agreement if you sought legal advice when you put it together.  A living together agreement will have details about who you are; what your individual financial situation is; what your living arrangement is, who owns the property and what you both pay towards it; whether you have children together and basic information about how you live and how you maintain your lifestyles financially.  It’s there to protect you in case anything unexpected happens in the future of your relationship, as if you break up and, for example, your house is only in one person’s name, the other person will have absolutely no rights to the property or its worth.

What are Your Rights if You Break Up?

As has been implied your rights are very limited if you break up and you don’t have measures in place to protect yourself.  For example, if you’ve given up work to look after the kids and you break up your ex has no responsibility to pay you any maintenance even if they have been supporting you and the children previously.  In terms of housing, if you rent a home and the tenancy agreement is only in your ex’s name then you have no right to stay in the house if your ex asks you leave.  Similarly, if your former partner technically owns the house then you have no right to stay, and will have no right to any financial share of the property.

If you do not have a living together agreement then you have no right to any possessions or savings that your former partner has built out of their own money.  So in the former situation where you are acting as the main care-giver to children, whilst your partner provides financial support for you all, you will have no legal right to any finances or possessions of financial worth.  If you contributed financially to things you own but in different amounts you own those things in shares according to your contribution.

What are Your Rights if Your Partner Dies?

Again your rights are next to nothing.  If there’s no will then you have absolutely no right to the family home if it is in their name and no right to inherit anything from your partner.  On top of this, you will not get any bereavement benefit from the state or receiving a basic state pension influenced by your partner’s national insurance contributions.

Because there is such little protection for cohabiting couples it is of paramount importance that you follow all the advice you can and liaise with a legal professional to draw up an agreement, write a will and check that you’re doing everything you can to protect each other should anything unexpected happen in your life.  The government provides advice via the Advicenow charity; take a look at their website for further information.




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