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What rights do cohabitees have?

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Despite a relationship lasting over 30 years, the Court of Appeal has decided that - in the absence of any clear intention to share property ownership - a cohabitee was not entitled to anything.

In Curran v Collins, Mr Collins and Ms Curran lived together for over 30 years in various residential properties purchased in Mr Collins’ sole name. The couple also ran a business from one of the properties, breeding Airedale terriers. When their relationship broke down in 2010, Mr Collins refused Ms Curran access to any of the properties and said that she had no entitlement to either the properties or the business. Ms Curran took the matter to Court.

It emerged that Mr Collins had told Ms Curran that he would have registered her as a joint owner but the additional life insurance would have been too expensive. Despite this - and despite the fact that he had made a Will leaving everything to Ms Curran - the Court of Appeal held that she had no entitlement to either the business or the properties.

This is a salutary reminder that irrespective of the length of the relationship, cohabitees have very few rights and the Courts are unwilling to come to their aid.

It was hoped by many that the Cohabitation Rights Bill, which reached its second reading in December 2014, would be a priority for a coalition government. But this was a Lib Dem policy and whether it will be pursued by the Conservatives remains to be seen.

In the meantime, couples who live together may wish to consider a Cohabitation Agreement (or ‘Living Together Agreement’). This is a record of what you have agreed about how you will own and share things. It prompts you to think about easy and fair ways to organise your finances and gives you peace of mind that if your relationship ends, neither of you will lose out financially - unless that is what you had agreed.

Please contact a member of our Family Team for further help and advice.