The word “cohabitation” has come to denote the situation where two people live together as husband and wife in a family framework without actually having gone through a ceremony of marriage. The couple may be heterosexual or homosexual or “gay” living together as a joint unit in one household because of their relationship with one another.

There is a common misconception amongst cohabiting couples that rights equivalent to marriage are acquired after a certain period of cohabitation and they become “common law” husbands and wives. There is in fact no such legal status.

  • Cohabiting couples may regard the other as next of kin and therefore the person whom they would wish to succeed to their estate if they died. However, this may not happen if they have not made a Will specifying that.
  • Sometimes property is jointly owned and the deeds are in both the partners’ names. If this is not the case, being awarded a share in any property depends on being able to establish ownership, either based on a financial contribution or a common intention.
  • If the property is rented in the name of one party, the other may not be able to continue living in it in the event of the party in whose name the tenancy is, dying or the relationship breaking down.
  • No matter how long people cohabit they do not have a right of maintenance for themselves.
  • Fathers of children born outside of marriage do not have automatic rights as father and do not automatically have Parental Responsibility.

How can I help myself?

We can prepare a Cohabitation Agreement for you. Cohabitation agreements have yet to be fully tested in Court so no one can be sure what attitude the courts will take to them. They can make sense in that they encourage people to think clearly about what they want to happen if the relationship ends.

The agreement would deal with financial and property matters and both parties should seek advice of a solicitor independently.

What if I do not want to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement?

If you and your partner are buying a property together we can advise you on the appropriate way for the property to be held by the two of you, depending upon your circumstances. It may not be appropriate for the property to simply be held as “Joint Tenants” . A Trust Deed may be appropriate. It is sensible that these matters are discussed at the outset of your relationship or when you buy your first property. Failure to record your intentions could lead to expensive litigation should your relationship break down.

It is important that you make Wills.

For more information, please contact Julie Wain on 01889 583871 or 01785 211411

Published on web site – April 2007


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. (50587)