Cohabitation

Your rights when cohabiting

There is a common misconception that cohabiting couples who have lived together for many years acquire legal rights similar to those for married couples. That is not the case, and there are certain issues cohabiting couples should be aware of in the event of a separation.

Property

If you moved into a house owned by your partner you do not acquire any automatic rights to it in the event of a split. You do not even have a right to reside in it for a set period of time until you find an alternative residence, unless you have a child with your partner in which case the court may allow a discretionary period of delay to remain at the residence. A solicitor specialising in family law will be able to guide you further in this regard.

Proprietary property interest

You may have gained a proprietary interest in your partner's property if you can demonstrate that you contributed significantly - helping with mortgage payments, renovations or general maintenance. You should contact a family law solicitor with all the appropriate documentation and information in respect of your contribution.

Property purchased with a joint mortgage

If you and your partner purchased a property with a joint-mortgage then you will both be liable for the payment of it until it has been paid in full, regardless of what decision you come to about who should carry on living at the property.

The 'common-law wife' myth

Cohabiting couples do not earn any entitlement to their partner's assets, even if they were gained during the course of their relationship. There is no such thing as a 'common-law wife' - each party takes what they brought to the relationship.

Protecting your interests while cohabiting

Cohabiting couples can create a legally binding agreement when they purchase a house to set out what will happen to it in the event of a separation, or a death.  A family law solicitor will be able to advise and assist you with drafting such an agreement.

What happens in the event of a death?

If your intention is that your partner should receive a life interest in your property or say some or all of your estate outright in the event of your death you will need to make provision for this in a written Will. In law it is your family that would be regarded as your next of kin regardless of how many years you have cohabited, and that applies for purposes of inheritance and making decisions in respect of medical treatment in the event of a serious injury.  Failure to make a Will and adequately provide for your partner [and his or her children] may result in them having to make a claim on your estate.  See Contesting a Will.

Cohabiting couples should always make a Will particularly if they have children together, or one has children who are treated as children of the ‘family’ or even if they have no children at all and they want their assets split fairly between their two respective families. One of our Will writing solicitors can assist you in this regard.

If your intention is that your partner should receive a life interest in your property or say some or all of your estate outright in the event of your death you will need to make provision for this in a written Will. In law it is your family that would be regarded as your next of kin regardless of how many years you have cohabited, and that applies for purposes of inheritance and making decisions in respect of medical treatment in the event of a serious injury.  Failure to make a Will and adequately provide for your partner [and his or her children] may result in her having to make a claim on your estate.  See Contesting a Will.
Cohabiting couples should always make a Will particularly  if they have children together, or one has children who are treated as children of the ‘family’ or even if they have no children at all and they want their assets split fairly between their two respective families. One of our Will writing solicitors can assist you in this regar

Exceptions to the rule

There are some instances were cohabiting couples have the same rights as married couples. If you have children together you both have rights in terms of contact with your children so you should seek legal advice if your ex-partner is prohibiting you from having a relationship with your children.

You also have the same rights to protection from the courts if your partner becomes abusive. The Family Homes and Domestic Violence legislation also applies to cohabiting couples and a solicitor specialising in domestic violence and abuse can help you make an application to the courts.

Contact us for legal advice

If you require legal advice from one of our family law experts contact us by calling 0800 840 1363 or submit your details online for a callback by clicking here.

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Here to help

Ciara Barlow Profile picture Ciara Barlow

Solicitor

Jayne Boyd Profile picture Jayne Boyd

Solicitor

Christopher Magowan Profile picture Christopher Magowan

Family Law Team Specialist

Aoife McCann Profile picture Aoife McCann

Family Law Team Specialist

Shannon McLorie Profile picture Shannon McLorie

Family Law Team Specialist

Lenore Rice Profile picture Lenore Rice

Partner

Chi Ting Yip Profile picture Chi Ting Yip

Family Law Team Specialist