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Cohabitation FAQs

The number of couples choosing to live together (cohabit) in a stable intimate relationship increased by 144% between 1996 and 2021 with about 3.6 million or 22% couples preferring not to get married or enter into a civil partnership.

Sometimes couples who live together have misconceptions regarding the status of their relationships and their rights. Linda Pope, answers some frequently asked questions about cohabitation.

After 2 years of cohabitation, do I become a common law wife or husband?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’. This is because couples who are not married or in a civil partnership are simply not recognised in the eyes of the law.

In England and Wales only people who are married, whether of the same sex or not, or those in civil partnerships can rely on the laws about dividing up finances when they divorce or dissolve their marriage.

However, if your partner/cohabitee was to die and they have not made financial provision for the surviving partner, they might be able to make a claim on their estate provided they were living together 2 or more years before they died and/or you were financially supported by them.

Can I make a financial claim against my ex-partner?

For unmarried couples, irrespective of the length of the relationship, there is no equivalent process or automatic right to the assets or property of the other partner and they are not afford the same rights and obligations as a couple who are married or in a civil partnership.

In cases where there are no children, the starting point is that neither party will have any ongoing financial obligations towards the other; they will be able to keep whatever assets or income they have in their sole name. A separating unmarried couple will ordinarily divide any assets held jointly in accordance with their legal ownership.

If there are children from the relationship, it is open to the parent with primary care of the child to make an application under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 for a lump sum, settlement or transfer of property order.

We live together – Am I entitled to half the house?

As a general rule, unmarried couples cannot claim a share of property in the sole name of their partner in the event of the breakdown of a relationship. However, if you and your partner are joint legal owners of the home (and any other assets), in the absence of a formal written agreement, the equity in the property would be shared equally.

Where one party is the sole legal owner, but the property was purchased with the intention it would be the family home and that they would share the beneficial interest, the non-legal owner could make a claim for their share particularly if they have contributed financially and made payments towards the deposit, renovations and the mortgage.

If you are planning to live together, and ideally before the non-legal owner makes any significant financial contribution, it is sensible for the parties to obtain separate independent legal advice and enter into a Cohabitation Agreement.

A cohabitation agreement is sometimes referred to as a ‘living together agreement’ and a formal document setting out entitlements, how assets are owned and shared between partners, and what happens if you break up. It also makes life easier if you do split up and may avoid the need for costly legal action.

The relationship has broken down, can I force my partner to leave?

If the home is owned or rented in joint names, there is an equal right in law that both you and your former partner are entitled to be in the property.

It is understandable that living in the same space as your ex-partner after the relationship has ended can be difficult. You can of course ask your ex-partner to vacate the home, but you cannot compel a co-owner/tenant to leave, except in the case of domestic abuse, in which case a court injunction (Occupation Order) would be needed.

Where only one party ‘owns’ the property or is named on the tenancy, the ‘non-owner/tenant’ may still have a right to stay there in the short term and/or may also have a right to claim against equity in the property because they have acquired an interest in it. This is, not a straight-forward area of law and it is important to get specialist legal advice promptly and before you leave as in fact you may be able to stay.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

Linda, Miles & Partners Solicitors, London

Linda Pope


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