Cohabitation

Many couples prefer to cohabit rather than marry, with cohabiting couples being the fastest growing family structure in the UK. Yet many people are uncertain as to their legal position as an unmarried couple, especially if their relationship ends.

This situation is not helped by the huge amount of myths surrounding the issue of cohabitation and the rights of individuals. Many people mistakenly believe that they have rights due to the concept of ‘common law marriage’ – however, there is no such thing. It is therefore essential to take steps to ensure you will be protected if your relationship ends.

Measures cohabiting couples can take to help to provide certainty and security and to prevent problems in the event of a breakdown of the relationship include:

  • Making a Cohabitation Agreement
  • Dealing with the issue of Parental Responsibility
  • Agreeing a sensible approach to buying joint property
  • Making a Will

Our experienced family lawyers can help you with all of these to give you peace of mind. We can also advise you on making a separation agreement and arrangements for children should your relationship come to an end.

The law concerning unmarried couples is developing, and if you find yourself in a situation where you need advice, then seek it from a specialist who understands and is fully versed in this fast-changing area of law.

Speak to our cohabitation solicitors

For expert assistance with the legal side of cohabitation you can contact our local teams in Boston, Grantham, Horncastle, Lincoln, London, Newark, Sleaford, Spalding or Stamford.

To ask a question or request a call back at a time that suits you, please use our simple enquiry form and a member of our team will get back to you quickly.

How our cohabitation solicitors can help you

Making a cohabitation agreement

A cohabitation agreement allows you to set out what should happen if you one day separate, including what will happen to your home, shared and any other shared assets. It can also clarify immediate issues, such as how much each party will contribute to rent, mortgage payments, bills and other shared costs.

Our cohabitation agreement solicitors can assist with drafting an agreement that clearly sets out everything you need certainty over. We will ensure every likely circumstance is considered and accounted for, giving you real peace of mind.

Parental responsibility for unmarried couples

If you are not married and have children, a key point to establish is who has legal parental responsibility for them. While birth mothers always have parental responsibility (unless a child has been put up for adoption or taken into care) this is not necessarily the case for other parents.

Our team can help you find out whether you have parental responsibility for your children and, if you don’t, assist you with obtaining it. This can usually be done voluntarily with a parental responsibility agreement, but court proceedings may be needed if the child’s other parent or parents do not agree.

Buying property as an unmarried couple

When you buy property as an unmarried couple, there are various issues you need to consider.

Firstly, you can either buy the property as ‘joint tenants’ or ‘tenants in common’. Being joint tenants means you own the whole property together and, if one of you dies, the other automatically becomes the sole owner of the property.

Buying as tenants in common means you each own a distinct share of the property and, should one of you die, the other does not automatically inherit. Instead, the deceased’s share will form part of their estate and be passed on according to their Will or the rules of intestacy.

You also need to consider what percentage of the property each person owns, which will often reflect how much of the deposit and mortgage payments they contribute.

Our team can help you draft an agreement that clarifies these issues, making sure there is no room for potential conflict in future.

Wills for unmarried couples

Married couples and civil partners have an automatic right to inherit if their spouse or civil partner dies (unless they have made a Will stating otherwise). Unmarried couples do not share the same rights, so it is important to make a Will so your partner will be taken care of should you pass away.

Our Wills, Trusts & Probate team can assist with drafting a legally sound Will that makes your wishes clear. We can also advise on the use of mirror Wills where both partners wish to leave their whole estate to each other.

Find out more about how we can help with making a Will.

Separation agreements for unmarried couples

If you do wish to separate, it is important to understand that you have no automatic legal right to each other’s assets. Making a separation agreement can allow you to amicably agree how your assets should be divided, avoiding the need for unnecessary conflict.

Our separation agreement solicitors can assist with negotiating the terms of your separation and formalise this for you by drafting a separation agreement.

Find out more about how we can help with financial settlements.

Arrangements for children of unmarried couples

Should you have children, their wellbeing is, of course, of paramount importance. If you separate, you will need to decide where they will live, what time they will spend with each parent and make sure their financial needs are met.

Our family lawyers can advise you on these decisions, helping you to reach an agreement voluntarily wherever possible. Should court proceedings be required, we can assist with making an application to the relevant court and ensure you have the best possible legal representation.

Find out more about how we can help with arrangements for children.

Why Chattertons is the right choice for cohabitation legal advice

Our family lawyers have decades of experience advising cohabiting couples. Our clients include people from all walks of life, from those with relatively straightforward situations, to those with the most complex circumstances, including where high value assets are involved.

We are Law Society accredited in Family Law and many of our team are members of Resolution, a network of family lawyers committed to removing conflict from divorce, separation and family legal disputes.

We can also offer the services of our Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) accredited Residential Property team for any property issues you are facing, such as buying a home together, selling your family home and transfer of ownership.

Clients often ask us…

Are cohabitation agreements legally binding?

No, a cohabitation agreement is not legally binding in the same way the terms of a marriage, civil partnership or court order are. However, it is a legal contract both parties are entering into, so its terms can be challenged or defended in court where required.

However, this is not normally necessary. As long as the cohabitation agreement is fair, it is usually in both parties’ interests to honour it as this makes the process of separating faster, cheaper and less stressful for everyone.

What is ‘common law marriage’?

There is no such thing as ‘common law marriage’ in the UK, although many people mistakenly believe otherwise.

If you are not married or in a civil partnership with your partner, you have no legal rights towards their property or other assets. You also have no rights to any kind of financial settlement or ongoing support if you later separate.

This is why making a cohabitation agreement is so essential.

Explore our other family law services

To find out more about the various family law services we provide, please visit one of the following pages:

Contact our cohabitation solicitors today

For expert assistance with cohabitation rights you can contact our local teams in Boston, Grantham, Horncastle, Lincoln, London, Newark, Sleaford, Spalding or Stamford.

To ask a question or request a call back at a time that suits you, please use our simple enquiry form and a member of our team will get back to you quickly.