Cohabiting Couples FAQs

On this page, you will find some of the often asked questions regarding living as a cohabitee (often referred to as a common law marriage).  If you have a query that is not covered below or on our main "Advice for Cohabiting Couples" page, please do not hesitate to contact us.

If I move in with my partner, what rights do I have to the property?

If the property is a rented property, only the person named on the rental agreement has the right to live there and he/she has sole responsibility for the payment of any rent.

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, even where only one of you owns the property, the other may have some rights (eg to a share of the money if the property is sold) if:

  • The non-owner contributes financially to the payment of the mortgage on the understanding that the other party is entitled to a share should it then be sold.
  • There are children involved in the partnership; a partner can apply to the Court for the right to remain living in the property to ensure the children's welfare.

What if I want to move out and sell the property?

If you own the property in your own name, you can ask your partner to move out and sell up. If the property is held in joint names, you cannot force your partner to sell the home if you decide to leave, unless you apply for a court order.

If the property is owned by our partner, you do not have an automatic right to a share in the property unless you can prove you have made a financial contribution ie you have helped pay the mortgage.  

Whatever your circumstances, a written cohabitation agreement detailing what contributions you will each make and what share of the home you are each entitled to, minimises the risk of future disputes.

How do we divide our assets if we split up?

Cohabiting couples have no legal duty to support each other financially, either while you are living together or if you separate. Nor do you automatically share ownership of your possessions, savings, investments and so on.  

In general, ownership is unaffected by moving in together and should you decide to part, anything you entered into the relationship owning remains yours.

If you have any debts in joint names (eg credit cards), you are normally each 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.

Can my partner authorise a doctor to operate on my child?

Only a person with parental responsibility for a child can provide authorisation for any medical assistance the child may need.  If the parents of children are not married, only the mother automatically has parental responsibility. Your partner only has parental responsibility if:

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

What happens if my partner dies and we are not married? 

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. 

Why should we have a cohabitation agreement?

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

Though not all of the agreement may be legally enforceable, it can help reduce the likelihood of a dispute arising and make them easier to resolve.

Such an agreement may include reference to finances, children, property and other assets that you may have and how they will be dealt with should you separate or one of you die.