Cohabitation and separation – what every cohabiting couple should know    

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There are common myths that we see when unmarried people contact us for help following the breakdown of their relationship. Here, I look at some key misconceptions and address them in the simplest form.

The first myth and probably the most common is that there is no such thing as Common Law Marriage.  As I explained in my earlier blog, a 2019 study showed that nearly half of the UK population believe that common law marriage exists and since that report was published we can’t see any reason why that figure would be any lower today. Many people believe that if they have lived together for a period of time they will be treated as common law husband and wife. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Another misconception I often come across as a family lawyer relates to how property will be dealt with when a cohabiting couple separate – and this is perhaps the biggest difference between married couples and those who live together.  If a property is held in one person’s name the other party will be left with very little protection and potentially no legal interest in the property despite perhaps having lived together in the property for many years

Also, a cohabitee has no right to their partner’s pension if they separate.  Sharing and dividing pensions is only available to married couples and those in civil partnerships.

With the exception of child maintenance, cohabitees can’t apply for financial support, from their partner if they were to separate.   Again, this only applies to couples who are married or in a civil partnership.

And finally, cohabitees do not have the automatic right to inherit from their partner’s estate if they were to die, unless they own the property jointly.  This remains the case even if they have children.

The harsh reality is that cohabiting couples face a complex legal framework in which to try to resolve any financial disputes relating to their separation because there is no specific law which protects unmarried couples.

My advice to all cohabiting couples is to prepare a cohabitation agreement, that will regulate the terms upon which they live together and addresses what happens should the relationship end. A cohabitation agreement will cover, for example interests in property, financial support (such as who pays what and for how long) and where any children should live etc.

How can we help?

Our team can advise you on all of your options, including the process of forming a cohabitation agreement, which can set out how any property or other assets will be dealt with upon separation.

In addition to a cohabitation agreement if a couple are buying a property together it is vital that they decide how they are going to own the property and make that agreement clear in the property purchase documents that are drawn up beforehand.

Director Lisa Burton-Durham is a specialist family and collaborative lawyer and head of our Brighton team.

For more information about cohabitation, or to arrange a confidential discussion about your personal circumstances, please do not hesitate to contact us.






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