Cohabiting Couples: Your Rights and the Law
When you and your special someone decide to live together, the excitement of finding somewhere to live and making a home together might be the main thing on your mind. But it’s important to realise that as a couple living together, there are several cohabitation rights and rules you should be aware of.
In this guide:
- What does cohabiting mean?
- What are your cohabitation rights?
- What is a cohabitation contract?
- What is a declaration of trust?
- The myth of common law spouses
‘Cohabiting’ is the term for couples who are in a relationship with each other and live in the same home, but are not married or in a civil partnership. Sometimes cohabiting refers to people who live in the same property (like housemates or flatmates, for example) but when we use the term ‘cohabiting couples’ it usually means two people in a long-term romantic relationship who live together.
While you might have personal agreements about rent, mortgage payments, and who does what in your home, unfortunately, there’s no legal definition of living together if you’re unmarried. That means that under current UK law, cohabiting couples don’t have the same legal cohabitation rights as married couples.
If you and your partner were to separate, you wouldn’t automatically be entitled to shared property, their pension, or other financial resources. Here are a few ways that your cohabitation rights differ from a married couple:
- You’re under no obligation to provide for each other financially, but that also means that you’re not entitled to seek financial assistance in the event of a separation
- You don’t have a specific right of occupation to your property (unless you have an occupation order or cohabitation contract) – if you’re married or in a civil partnership, you have a right not to be evicted from a family home.
- You don’t have any right to tax exemptions on gifts and inheritance tax
Generally, if you and your partner are cohabiting and you separate, you’d keep property and assets that are in your sole name. If you’ve purchased a house in both of your names, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’d each get a 50% split in the home – if the issue were to go to court, the court might look at the arrangement of finances, such as how much of the rent or mortgage you pay. That’s why making a declaration of trust (covered in the next section!) can protect you both, especially if you and your partner have different incomes or if one of you pays more on your rent.
In the event that your partner dies, their property, bank accounts and any resources they own would be part of their estate, and you wouldn’t automatically be granted access to them – the estate would need to be settled.
In some situations, cohabiting couples can make a formal agreement about living together using a legal agreement, usually called a ‘cohabitation contract’ or ‘living together agreement’. This arrangement outlines the cohabitation rights and the obligations that you and your partner have towards each other. As there aren’t any cohabiting laws that decide how assets are divided, making a contract like this can help to make things easier in the event that cohabiting couples separate. Going through a separation is hard enough, so agreeing your obligations towards each other ahead of time can be really helpful – and hopefully, you won’t ever need to consult your cohabitation contract after it’s been agreed.
If you decide to make a cohabitation contract, you can also make a legal agreement about your property and how you share it – this is called a ‘declaration of trust’.
If you decide to make a declaration of trust, because it’s a formal legal document, it can give you certain protections and cohabitation rights in case you and your partner separate. Essentially, you and your partner will agree how you would like your property to be divided.
It might not be something you’d like to think about as you move into a new home with your partner, but making a declaration of trust means that you’re both protected and have rights under the law in the event that something goes wrong.
Cohabiting couples are sometimes called common-law spouses, but this is just a saying. Lots of people believe that after living together for five years or more, you are ‘common law married’ and entitled to a share of your partner’s assets. This hasn’t been the case for hundreds of years. Unlike when you sell your home as part of a divorce, if cohabiting couples separate, there are no common-law rules that apply to equally divide assets.
Because lots of people believe that common law marriages still exist, it can lead to difficult situations if cohabiting couples are to separate – which is why it’s important to look at cohabitation contracts and making a declaration of trust to make sure that you have cohabiting rights.
Living together is an important step for any couple. But cohabiting couples should be aware of the law, and make sure that their cohabiting rights are protected with legal agreements like a declaration of trust.
In the unfortunate event that you and your partner separate, you might find that you need to sell your home quickly for cash to speed up proceedings. If that happens, Good Move can help. We can help you to make a fast house sale within weeks for up to 85% of market value, with no viewings, no chain, and no hassle. For more articles about housing, your legal rights, and more, check out the Good Move blog.