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Cohabitation and the law

Cohabitation is currently not recognised legally in the same way as marriage or a civil partnership.

A man and woman living together in a stable sexual relationship are often referred to as “common law spouses”. In England and Wales this is legally incorrect. Although cohabitants do have some legal protection in certain areas, cohabitation gives no general legal status to a couple. Unlike marriage and civil partnership where many legal rights and responsibilities stand.


There is currently no legislation which provides for the division of assets when cohabitation ends.


Cohabiting couples are treated as unconnected individuals for taxation purposes. They cannot, for example, benefit from various reliefs and exemptions in the taxation system available for spouses and civil partners

Division of property

Unmarried couples have no guaranteed rights to ownership of each other’s property on a relationship ending.

If a cohabiting couple separates, the courts have no power to override the legal ownership of property and divide it as they may do on divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership.

Your rights to the property you’re living in depend on:

  • Who owns the home;
  • Whether you have made payments towards the mortgage or other costs; and
  • Whether you had an agreement that you would be entitled to part of the property.

For couples who rented together, if you were not named on the rental agreement you will have no automatic right to stay if a partner left or asked you to leave. You would be left to apply to the court for an order giving the right to occupy, the outcome of which is uncertain. If your ex-partner owned your home, and there is no other agreement in place, you have no right to stay if they ask you to leave.


A married father is automatically assumed to be the child’s father at the time of birth. He will automatically have parental responsibility for that child. A person who holds parental responsibility has a say in a number of significant decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as name, education, travel and health issues.

Unmarried fathers are not automatically assumed to be the child’s father and will not automatically have responsibility for the child unless they are named as the child’s father on the Birth Certificate. There are a number of ways however that parental responsibility can be acquired, either with or without the mother’s agreement.

What all parents do have in common is a duty to maintain their children financially.

Medical emergencies

You will not be treated as next of kin if your partner becomes ill unless you and your partner have made a written agreement beforehand. This means you will not have automatic rights to know about their condition or see them in the hospital. You will not be able to plan their care, unless they have agreed to this in writing.


When a couple live together, without getting married or forming a civil partnership, and one of them dies without leaving a will, the survivor has no automatic right under the intestacy rules to inherit any part of his or her partner’s estate. This is the same no matter how long they lived together and even if they had children.

It is possible for the surviving cohabitant to make a claim in court against the estate of their partner if no provision has been made for them through a will.

Cohabitation Agreement

Living Together or Cohabitation Agreements have an odd status in law. They aren’t binding unless you write them as a formal legal deed, but the court will usually follow them as long as what you agreed is fair, and you were both honest about your finances when you made the agreement. A court is even more likely to uphold the agreement if you both had some separate legal advice about what you were doing before signing the agreement. If you want to ensure it is binding, you can make it in the form of a deed. It is advisable to do this if you want to make sure that the agreement about the ownership of the home is binding, for instance, or if one of you is promising to pay something to the other. We advise you to take legal advice if you are going to make the agreement in deed form.

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