Essential Facts For Cohabiting Couples: UK Rights

Essential Facts For Cohabiting Couples: UK Rights
Essential Facts For Cohabiting Couples: UK Rights

More individuals are opting to live together rather than get married. Currently, there are 3.3 million cohabiting couple families in the UK, making cohabiting couples the fastest-growing family type based on ONS data. However, many individuals are unaware of their legal rights concerning their relationship, property, children, and inheritance. This blog highlights four essential considerations for cohabiting couples with a family.

There are no common-law rights

Unfortunately, the myth of “common law marriage” persists among many people, but the reality is that such a legal status does not exist. Even if you’ve been in a relationship for over 20 years, contributed significantly to raising the family and managing the household, and your partner is the sole owner of the family home, they can end the relationship without any legal obligation to support you financially. In England and Wales, cohabiting couples do not have the same financial rights or responsibilities as married couples. Unlike countries like Australia, where “de facto” relationships are legally recognised, cohabiting couples in England and Wales have no legal duty to provide financial support to each other while together or if they separate.

Children and housing provisions

If you have children, there are legal protections available to you. The court has the authority to intervene, typically to assist one parent in obtaining financial support from the other parent to ensure the child has a place to live. This intervention is distinct from child maintenance, which is typically handled by the Child Maintenance Service.

Cases commonly brought before the courts involve requests for capital for housing, either through a lump sum payment or through a property settlement or transfer order. Therefore, if you are the primary carer of your child or children and reside in a property owned by your partner, it is advisable to seek legal advice to explore options for securing occupation of the property to continue caring for the children while they are dependent.

Property ownership can be complex for unmarried couples.

If you are residing in a property solely owned by your partner, but you have made substantial financial contributions and there was a mutual understanding that you would benefit from a share of the property, along with evidence that you have acted to your detriment based on that understanding, you may have a right to claim an interest in the property under the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996.

Proving such a claim can be challenging, as indicated by the complexity of this situation. Therefore, seeking legal advice is crucial. Alternatively, considering a cohabitation agreement (often referred to as a living-together agreement) when moving in together can help clarify rights and expectations from the outset.

Inheritance may be disputed

If your partner passes away and you are not named as a beneficiary in their will, you do not have an automatic right to inherit. However, if you can demonstrate that you were financially dependent on your partner, you may be able to make a claim against their estate, even if you were not designated as a beneficiary in the will.

The Rights of cohabiting couples

Although cohabiting couples do not have a direct legal duty to support each other, there are situations where you may be able to safeguard your position. Therefore, it is crucial to schedule a consultation with a specialised family lawyer to thoroughly explore your options.

Educate unmarried couples

This is a significant issue for our lawyers, as we often hear from unmarried individuals who believe they have legal rights to the property and lifestyle they shared with their partner. One area where we unanimously agree that change is necessary is education. When couples decide to move in together, there should be readily available (and free) information explaining precisely that unmarried couples have no legal rights. This would empower individual couples to choose to establish a cohabitation or living-together agreement if they desire some form of protection.

Some of our lawyers also advocate for conveyancing solicitors to be required to explain to unmarried couples purchasing property together that family law does not safeguard their arrangement, encouraging them to seek additional legal advice before establishing a home.

Overall, we all acknowledge that we do not anticipate legal changes in the near future to specifically assist unmarried cohabiting couples. Instead, the responsibility lies with the couple to educate themselves on how the law would treat them in the event of a relationship breakdown.

If you are planning to move in with your partner, it can be highly beneficial to have a cohabitation agreement drafted to clarify your intentions. This agreement can provide clarity on what will occur in the event of a separation and minimise potential conflicts in the future.

Avatar of DLS Solicitors by DLS Solicitors
25th April 2024
Avatar of DLS Solicitors
DLS Solicitors

Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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