Cohabiting Couples: What Are Your Rights?

More and more couples in the UK are choosing to cohabit, rather than getting married or entering a civil partnership. Therefore, many more people are going to need to be aware of their rights if things don’t work out. 

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of cohabiting couples has risen 25% in the last decade, with around 3.4 million households describing themselves as cohabiting.

What are the legal rights for cohabiting couples?

Despite the major rise in instances of cohabiting couples, they still do not currently have access to the same legal and financial rights as those in a marriage or civil partnership. The term ‘common law spouse’ is often used in the media but in reality it means nothing from a legal perspective. Those many millions of people who are cohabiting may think there is a framework that governs their finances but this is an incorrect assumption.

The milestone of moving in with your partner may come at the start of your career, when you’re not yet on the property ladder; or when you have already acquired a number of assets such as property, savings and a business. 

Whatever life stage you’re at, you should use this opportunity to take stock of your assets, and understand the rights you have. This way you can take the correct precautions to protect your interests, and make arrangements for the future.

How do legal rights differ for cohabiting couples and married couples?

The law only recognises those in a marriage or civil partnership as having legal status when it comes to dividing up assets on separation. In the event of divorce in the case of a marriage or dissolution in the case of a civil partnership, a spouse or civil partner can make claims for property, assets, shares of pension and ongoing maintenance. None of which would be the case if a cohabiting relationship ended.

In the unfortunate circumstance of their partner passing away, a surviving spouse will have inheritance rights even if there is no Will. However, no matter how long a cohabiting couple has been together, they will not automatically inherit without a Will. This is a clear difference in cohabiting legal rights which affects many.

Due to their relationship status carrying no legal weight, and having minimal rights, it is important cohabiting couples are aware of the actions they can take.

What can cohabiting couples do to protect their legal rights?

It is essential both parties write a Will if they wish for their partner to inherit their assets; and to also include any children involved or make arrangements for their care. 

Declarations of Trust can be put in place for the ownership of assets so both cohabitees know where they stand in the event of a relationship breakdown.

Some rights can be formalised and protected by drawing up a legal document, known as a cohabitation agreement. With the correct legal advice, this can set out what is to happen in the event of a relationship breakdown.

How can a cohabiting couple find the legal guidance they need?

The rise of cohabiting couples means that more and more people need to consider the legal implications of their relationship. 

We have been advising people in Ormskirk, Southport and across Lancashire and Merseyside on Family Law matters for over 200 years. If you would like to discuss any of the legal options open to cohabiting couples then please call our offices on 01695 574 201 or email us.

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