Advice for Cohabiting Couples

If you are cohabiting, you do not have the same legal rights as if you were married or had entered into a civil partnership.  Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a “common-law marriage”.

Property

Moving in with someone does not automatically grant you rights to the property.  If it is a rental property, you will need to seek the landlord’s consent to reside in the property.    

Similar rules apply if the property is owned by one of you. The property owner is the only one entitled to live there - anyone else can be asked to leave. The owner can also make decisions - such as selling the property - without consulting their partner.

However, you may have some rights (eg to a share of the money if the property is sold). This can happen if:

  • The owner of the property has agreed in writing that the non-owner is entitled to a share of the home.
  • The non-owner contributes (eg paying part of the mortgage) to the property on the understanding that this entitles him or her to a share.
  • The non-owner has acted to their own detriment (eg giving up a job) on the understanding that this entitles him or her to a share.
  • A partner with children applies to the court for the right to continue living there to ensure the children's welfare.

Finances

You have no legal duty to support your cohabiting partner either whilst living together or if you should separate.  Nor do you automatically share ownership of your possessions, savings, investments and so on.  The assets you owned when you started co-habiting remain yours should you decide to separate or move out.

Should you incur any debts that are in joint names (eg credit cards), you will both be liable for the debt. If your partner fails to pay, you can be pursued for the full amount. You may also both be liable for household bills.

Children

Legally, only the person who has parental responsibility for a child can make important decisions about children (eg their education, health).

If the parents of a child are not married, only the mother automatically has parental responsibility. The mother's partner has parental responsibility only if:

•    He is named as the father on the birth certificate (for a child born after December 2003).
•    He enters into an agreement with the mother and obtains a parental responsibility order or child arrangements order.
•    He is registered as the child's guardian and all other individuals with parental responsibility have died (including the mother).

Inheritance 

Should your partner pass away, you have no automatic right to inherit any of their assets.  However, if you have lived together 'as man and wife' for at least two years or you can show that you were financially dependent on your partner, you can make a claim for a financial settlement.  Making a claim is a complex dispute and can prove expensive if the other beneficiaries disagree.  Should you wish to pursue a claim we have highly skilled solicitors who can help you through the process.

When it comes to property, if you owned your home as 'joint tenants', you will automatically own the property if your partner dies. If, however, you were 'tenants in common', your partner's share is dealt with under the terms of his or her will. 

What can I do to protect myself?

Written agreements can help to protect you from potential risks if you separate or your partner dies.

We can help you with a cohabitation agreement which can help cover issues such as property, finances, childcare etc.  

Our team of experienced family lawyers are available to assist and advise and can be contacted for free initial advice at family@gepp.co.uk or 01245 228116