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4 Essential cohabiting couples facts - UK rights

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Cohabiting couples property, children and inheritance.

More and more couples are choosing to live together rather than marry. Cohabiting couple families are now the fastest growing family type (according to ONS data).  There are now 3.3 million cohabiting couple families in the UK. Unfortunately, many don’t realise their legal rights when it comes to their relationship, property, children and inheritance. This blog sets out just four of the most important considerations for a cohabiting couple with a family.

There are no common-law rights

Many people still believe in the myth of ‘common law husband and wife’ in that if they move in together this somehow gives them a right to make a financial claim against their partner as if they were married.  This belief is wrong   Whilst ‘de facto’ relationships, as they are called, are legally recognised in some countries (Australia for example), cohabiting couples in England & Wales have no legal duty to support the other financially whilst together or if they separate.

Children and housing provision

If you have children the law does offer some protection. The court has the power to intervene, usually to enable one parent of the child to secure financial assistance from the other parent to ensure the child has somewhere to live. This is separate to child maintenance, which is ordinarily managed by the Child Maintenance Service.  Cases most commonly brought before the courts are for the provision of capital for housing, either by way of a lump sum or by way of a property settlement or transfer order.  So, if you find yourself in a situation where you are the primary carer of your child or children, and the property in which you live is owned by your partner, you should seek legal advice with a view to exploring whether you can secure occupation of that property to continue your role in bringing up the children whilst the children are dependent.

Property ownership isn’t completely clear cut

If you are living in a property owned solely by your partner but you have made significant financial contributions and there was an intention between you that you would benefit from a share of the property and you can show that you have acted to your detriment in relying on that intention, then you may have a right to claim an interest in the property under the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996. 

As you can tell from my parenthesis this isn’t always easy to prove, so it is important to take advice. Or better still to think about a cohabitation agreement (often called a living together agreement) when you move in together.

Inheritance may be disputed

If your partner dies and you are not a beneficiary under their Will, whilst you have no automatic right to inherit, if you can show you were financially dependent on your partner you could make a claim against their estate even if you were not a beneficiary of the Will.

In summary

Whilst there is no direct legal duty between cohabiting couples to support each other, there are circumstances in which you may be able to protect your position, it is therefore always important to make an appointment with a specialist family lawyer to explore your options.

If you are planning on moving in with your partner, it can be very useful to have a Cohabitation Agreement drawn up to set out your intentions. Whilst not all of the terms may be legally enforceable, it can create clarity on what will happen in the event of a separation and can reduce future conflict.

Sue Harwood
Divorce & family lawyer, Cornwall

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