Do Unmarried Couples have Legal Rights?

14 June 2018

Many people think that unmarried couples have common law rights when splitting up. In England and Wales there are no common law rights, because couples who are not married or in a Civil Partnership are simply not recognised in the eyes of the law.

There is a common misconception that certain legal rights will be applied to couples who are living together, even if they have not formalised their relationship through marriage or Civil Partnership. This arrangement is known as Cohabiting, and currently the law in England and Wales does not offer any legal protection for couples who live together, i.e. cohabiting couples.

Cohabitation on the Rise

Worryingly, a significant number of cohabiting couples don't understand what would happen to their home or joint assets in the event of a separation or if one person died. This is of particular concern as the number of cohabiting couples in the UK continues to soar.

There are around 3.3 million couples cohabiting in the UK currently and cohabitation is the fastest growing family type in the UK. As more and more couples choose not to get married, many could be putting themselves at risk by not taking steps to protect themselves and one another in the event of separation.

No Common Law Marriage - No Right to Inherit

Many couples who live together mistakenly believe that they are in a 'common law marriage' and that this status will afford them some level of legal protection in the event of separation or of one person's death.

In reality, cohabiting couples do not have common law rights when splitting up. Neither person would be entitled to financial support or a share in the other person's assets if the relationship fails.

Furthermore, if one person died, then their partner would not automatically be entitled to inherit anything from them, including their home if this was owned in their partner's name. This means that they could find themselves in financial ruin or without a roof over their head after the loss of their partner.

Legal Protection for Unmarried Couples

One way to ensure that both of you do have legal protection if you break up is to put a Cohabitation Agreement in place, also sometimes known as a 'Living Together Agreement'.

This is a legal document in which you can set out who would get what in the event of a separation, as well as agree matters such as who is responsible for what during the relationship. For cohabiting couples with children, a Cohabitation Agreement can also make accommodations for them, outlining who the children would live with and how they would be looked after if the parents were to split up.

A Cohabitation Agreement puts everything in writing, so there's less chance of uncertainty or disagreements further down the line. As a Cohabitation Agreement is drawn up in advance, the terms are more likely to be reasonable than if a couple waits until the relationship has already turned sour to have these conversations.

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