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What is cohabitation?

By , on Tuesday June 4, 2024 at 10:26 am

It is very common for couples to choose to live together without being married or in a civil partnership. This type of arrangement is referred to as cohabitation.

Cohabitating relationships can be suitable for many couples, but it is important to be aware of the potential legal implications of such an arrangement. Many people mistakenly believe that there is such a thing as ‘common law marriage’ which means they will have certain legal rights if the relationship breaks down. This is not the case.

Our family law experts have extensive knowledge of family laws in the UK, including what the rights of cohabiting couples are and what effect cohabitation agreements can have. We can provide you with the advice and support you need if you have any questions about your cohabiting partnership and what legal rights you might have.

What is the legal definition of cohabitation in the UK?

There is no specific legal definition of cohabitation. That said, the meaning of cohabitation is generally understood as being an arrangement where a couple are in a relationship and live together without being married or in a civil partnership.

What are cohabiting couples?

Any couple that are in a relationship without being married or in a civil partnership and share a home (whether owning or renting) will be considered to be cohabiting. Cohabiting couples can be both opposite and same-sex.

Do cohabiting couples have rights?

Contrary to the concept of the common law marriage myth, couples in a cohabiting relationship do not have the same legal protections as married couples and civil partners. This means that cohabitees are potentially vulnerable if they separate, as they have no direct duty to support each other financially while together, or if they separate.

For example, while the courts have the power to deal with property rights during a divorce, if there is a disagreement between unmarried couples, they can only determine the ownership of the property based on whose name is on the deeds and what contributions were previously made.

Though it can be difficult to do so, it may be possible for one party to claim a share of the value of a property, even if their name is not on the title deeds. This will usually involve proving that there was a common understanding that both parties had a financial interest in the property. This could involve providing evidence of:

  • Contributions to the mortgage
  • Contributions to home improvements (practical or financial)
  • An agreement about the ownership of the property

There are certain protections if you have children with a cohabiting partner. For instance, the court will have the power to enable one parent to secure financial assistance from the other parent to ensure that the child has somewhere to live.

It is also important to note that, if one cohabiting partner dies without a valid Will in place, the other will not have an automatic right to inherit according to the Rules of Intestacy.

More information on the rights of cohabiting couples can be found here.

Having a cohabitation agreement in place can help cohabitating couples establish their rights more firmly.

What is a cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation agreement (also known as a living together agreement) is a contract that a cohabiting couple can sign to clarify their rights and responsibilities concerning their property, finances and assets.

Cohabitation agreements are used to record any essential facts about a couple’s respective position, as well as what arrangements should be made if the relationship breaks down.

Depending on the circumstances, cohabitation agreements can also be used for additional arrangements such as those involving children.

What should you include in a cohabitation agreement?

Cohabitation agreements are bespoke. They can include as many provisions as a couple would like and will be personal to their circumstances.

Typically, cohabitation agreements will include details about:

  • Any property owned prior to moving in together
  • Assets acquired after moving in together
  • Ongoing household expenses
  • How co-parenting will work should the relationship end

The terms included in a cohabitation agreement must be precise so that it will be enforceable if required.

It is vital that both parties seek independent legal advice on the content of any cohabitation agreement. This is something our team will be able to provide you with.

Are cohabitation agreements legally binding?

A cohabitation agreement will be considered legally binding so long as it has been correctly drafted, both parties receive independent legal advice, and it is signed as a deed.

It is also important to regularly review and update an existing cohabitation agreement so that it accurately reflects your circumstances, especially if there has been a dramatic change such as having children or receiving a significant financial windfall.

Does a cohabitation agreement continue to apply after marriage?

There is often some confusion surrounding cohabitation agreements and whether they continue to apply after a couple marries or enters a civil partnership. The answer to this depends on the terms of a cohabitation agreement.

In many cases, it makes sense to convert a cohabitation agreement into a prenuptial agreement, especially if it includes provisions relating to finances.

Our solicitors are here for you

If you need advice about your position as a cohabitee, or you are considering creating a cohabitation agreement to help solidify your rights and responsibilities, our expert family law solicitors will be able to lend their support.

For advice on your rights when cohabiting, cohabitation disputes or creating a cohabitation agreement, take advantage of a free 30-minute telephone appointment to discuss your situation, by calling 0800 321 3832 or completing our online form

Claudette Jaggard-Inglis
Divorce & family lawyer

Blog Author - Claudette Jaggard-Inglis

Claudette Jaggard-InglisClaudette Jaggard-Inglis

Claudette is Woolley & Co's divorce and family lawyer based near Wolverhampton.


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