What is cohabitation?

Cohabitation in the UK typically means that a couple lives together in a long-term relationship, although they are not married or in a civil partnership.  Some call these couples ‘common law partners’.

Due to an increase in cohabitating, recent years saw several legal changes in the UK regarding how cohabitating couples are treated. In family law, a domestic partnership means these people now have limited rights. For example, an unmarried father can have parental responsibility if he is listed on the child’s birth certificate.

It is essential to realise that common law partners have no legal standing in England or Wales.  In the eyes of the law, these persons are still considered individuals. Cohabitating couples are not automatically each other’s beneficiaries and cannot claim financial benefits at the death of one of the partners. Cohabitation is not some form of marital status, although many people in England and Wales believe so.

What if we want to separate?

The property, pensions, and inheritance laws are very different for a cohabitating couple than for a married one or people in a civil partnership.

At Robertsons Solicitors, we understand that you may feel anxious if you find yourself in the difficult position of wanting to separate yourself from a long-term cohabitating relationship. You are, for instance, not allowed to claim maintenance from the other partner.  However, there are some things you can claim or ask for.  

It could be that you are entering into a cohabitation relationship and you own the property. It is obvious that you will be considering how you can protect that property should the relationship breakdown. This could lead to a cohabitation agreement being considered. Such a document can also include other aspect of the relationship, such as who pays the bills and/or mortgage/rent.

Whether you are entering or leaving a cohabiting relationship, our expert family law solicitors will happily help and lead you in conversation.  

Cohabitation FAQs

Unfortunately, unless the family home is in your joint name, you have no guaranteed right to ownership of the house if you are not married.  In fact, the division of property can be an extremely complex issue.

Should your cohabiting partner, for example, own the home in their sole name, you might only be entitled to something if you can prove that you contributed directly to the property's upkeep.  Even then, one cannot claim for just anything.   It must have been a significant contribution.   Our expert family law solicitors at Robertsons Solicitors can help you in this regard.

You might not automatically inherit anything from your partner's estate.  However, in some cases, you might be able to make a claim to the court against the estate of your deceased cohabiting partner.  If you are unsure about your situation, please make an appointment with one of our family law solicitors at Robertsons.  We will evaluate your case on the facts and give you the best advice we can.

You don’t have automatic pension rights if you are in a domestic relationship.  As a rule, you won’t be entitled to anything, but we have found exceptions.  Please speak to us so we can evaluate your situation's facts.

Only the birth mother has automatic parental responsibility if a couple is unmarried or in a civil partnership.   For births after 1 December 2003, a father may have parental rights if his name appears on the birth certificate.

Should a biological father later marry the mother, he can also acquire parental responsibility.   Child custody depends on parental rights, so cohabitation can affect child custody depending on your situation.

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