Cohabiting in the UK is defined as an unmarried couple who are living together in a long-term relationship, which resembles a marriage. Technically, 'cohabitants' can refer to any number of people who are living together, but a cohabiting couple would be defined as a couple who aren't married but who are living together.
Common Law Marriage is a Myth
A significant number of cohabiting couples believe that they are in what would be legally recognised as a 'common law marriage.' This is a risky assumption, with many cohabitees mistakenly believing that if their relationship were to break down or if their partner died, they would be afforded a similar level of legal protection as they would if they had been married.
But in reality, in England and Wales, there is no such thing as a common law marriage. This means that many people living with their partners could potentially risk financial ruin and/or becoming homeless if their partner died or if the relationship ended.
During the coronavirus lockdown, many couples moved in together to avoid being separated indefinitely. See our Guide to Cohabiting during Lockdown for more information.
Two Ways Cohabiting Couples Can Protect Themselves
Couples who live together can ensure that each person's finances and share in any joint assets are legally protected, is to put a Cohabitation Agreement (or 'Living Together Agreement') in place.
This is a legal document which puts everything in writing so that there is no discrepancy in the future. A Cohabitation Agreement can set out details such as how household costs will be covered, how the couple's money will be managed and how joint assets should be divided in the event of separation.
It also allows each person the opportunity to take measures such as naming their partner as a beneficiary under their pension and taking out life insurance on each other.
For cohabiting couples who also have children together, a Cohabitation Agreement can set out how the children would be cared for and supported if the couple were to separate.
Cohabitation Agreements can help couples to agree these things in a fair and considered way. This can help to avoid potentially costly Court proceedings in the future if the relationship breaks down.
Make a Will
Many couples who are living in a property that they own together are likely to want their share in the property to transfer to their partner in the event of their death. Depending on how the property is owned this may not happen automatically, meaning the surviving owner could end up having to sell up or leave their home.
If the property is owned jointly as Joint Tenants, then this means that neither person owns a specific share. Instead, both owners own the property as a whole. If one owner dies then their share in the house will automatically transfer to the surviving owner.
However, if the property is owned jointly as Tenants in Common, then each person owns a specific share of the property. If one owner dies then their share of the property will for part of their Estate. If they have made a Will then their share will be passed on to either whoever they've named as a Beneficiary. If they have not made a Will, then inheritance laws called the Rules of Intestacy will determine who should inherit their share of the property.
One way to ensure that the property would transfer across to the surviving owner is to make a Will, naming the other owner as the beneficiary of your share in the property. This way, you can decide who will inherit what from you, instead of leaving it to chance.
Cohabitation: 2nd Largest Type of Family
Cohabitation is currently the fastest-growing family type in the UK, with 3.3 million cohabiting couples recorded in the UK in 2017. This figure has more than doubled in the last 12 years and places cohabitation as the second largest family type, after married couples or those in civil partnerships.
Why is Cohabitation on the Rise?
There is no definitive answer as to why more couples are choosing to live together without getting married, but it is likely to be partly down to a shift in attitudes towards marriage. In today's society, it's commonplace for couples to live together for some time before tying the knot, and many choose not to get married at all.