Skip to content Skip to footer
Enquiries Call 0800 652 8025
Happy couple

Guide to the cohabitation rights of common law partners

What is a common law partner?

‘Common law partner’ is a term used to describe someone in a long-term relationship and cohabiting with another person. There are no criteria to qualify as a common law partner as the term has no legal standing

Is common law marriage legally binding?

There is a widely held belief that couples who have cohabited for a long period of time are in a so-called ‘common law marriage’ and therefore have the same legal rights as couples who are legally married or in a civil partnership, should they separate. However this is not the case. In this article, our Family Law team will set out the legal perspective on cohabiting with your partner.

What rights do cohabiting couples have?

If you are cohabiting and the relationship breaks down, the law does not give you the same protection it does married couples going through a divorce. Resolving disputes over property rights can be both time consuming and costly. In addition, as a cohabitee you have no right to claim again your partner’s pension and, if there’s no Will, no automatic right to inherit your partner’s estate, regardless of how long you have been together, even if you have children.

If you do have children together and you are the primary care giver, your ex-partner would be expected to pay child maintenance and, in certain circumstances, you may also have the right to claim for the financial needs of a child under the Children’s Act. Seek specialist advice to determine whether you are entitled to make a claim.

What is the current law on cohabitation?

Living together without being married or being in a civil partnership means you do not have many legal rights around finances, property and children.

Very simply, there is no such thing as ‘common law marriage’. Unlike divorce, there are no particular rules that automatically apply if you split up from the person you live with. Regardless of how long you have lived together, you are not automatically entitled to financial support or a claim against a property they own.

In cases where your circumstances may give rise to you being entitled to make a claim against property, this will forensic analysis of contributions made and detailed investigation into whether an understanding or agreement has ever been in place, why contributions have been made and what claims can potentially be made as a result.

The future law on cohabitation claims

There have been proposals to change the law surrounding cohabitants as the current law leaves little protection for them on separation. However, the Government has said that it does not intend to make any immediate changes. This means that for unmarried couples, sorting out disputes about property without an agreement can become expensive and difficult. A cohabitation agreement can eliminate these issues by setting out what both of you intend to do during your relationship, if you separate and what each of you is entitled to.

Make a cohabitation agreement to remove uncertainty

As a cohabiting couple, the financial consequences of separating can be significant. The best way to protect your assets and income is to prepare for the possibility with a cohabitation agreement that clearly set out each party’s intentions. A cohabitation agreement will give you both certainty in this complex area of the law.

Your cohabitation agreement can set out how you will share your financial affairs while living together as well as what should happen if one of you falls ill, dies or the relationship ends. Importantly, it can also clearly establish arrangements for children.

Contact our family law team

If you have a query about your rights as a cohabitee or would like to discuss setting up a cohabitation agreement, call us now on 0800 422 0123 or contact us online to arrange a free and confidential initial consultation. Our family law solicitors work with clients across the country from our offices in London, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Southampton and Taunton.


More on this topic


The impact of sport relocation in family law

The impact of a ‘professional sportsperson’ career on families is often overlooked. For instance, when a footballer transfers to a new club, they might need to relocate to another part of the country or even to a different country altogether.
Read more on The impact of sport relocation in family law

Looking for legal advice?