COHABITATION – not as simple as it appears

12th Mar 2018

The fastest growing family type in the UK are cohabiting couples (unmarried couples who live together). In the UK today one family in five is cohabitating and approximately 50% of those have dependent children.

Conveyancing solicitor

There are many reasons as to why couples chose not to marry, however, many don’t realise the position they leave themselves in. There is the misbelief that if people live together for long enough they are “common law husband and wife” and will automatically have “rights”. Sadly, this is not the case and whilst parents have obligations towards their children, this is not the same for partners. Partners are not entitled to financial support and many will be left without legal protection regarding finances or property on the breakdown of a relationship.

The starting position to resolve any dispute as to a family home would be to establish who are the legal owners of the property? We would then look at whether the parties had entered into a Declaration of Trust and what that provided. If there is no Declaration of Trust the Court can resolve a dispute. However, the costs of this can be several thousand pounds. We would consider with you whether mediation or a collaborative approach may be appropriate rather than Court proceedings.

If no resolution can be found then we will advise as to Court proceedings under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996. The Courts do not have the same discretion as they would do with a married couple and each case will be decided on its own facts.

If there are children involved you may need to apply to the Child Maintenance Service to obtain child support. There may be circumstances where a party could benefit indirectly for support for the children. For example in some situations the Court could order a home to be provided for the children until they are independent and proceedings can commence under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989.

What you can do

  • Know your rights and seek legal advice
  • Document your intentions from the start – enter into a Declaration of Trust when you purchase a property jointly and ensure both names are on the title deeds.
  • Think about a Cohabitation Agreement. This can record details such as who owns what, how any property acquired over the relationship will be owned, who will be responsible for the mortgage payments and other outgoings as well as how matters are to be dealt with in the event the relationship breaks down.
  • Consider taking life insurance
  • Make a Will. Whilst it may be possible to claim in the event of a partners death (in the absence of a Will), the process can be long and expensive.

If you need further advice on this difficult area please contact one of our expert solicitors in our family law team:

Kerry Rowell on 01603 675686 or

Averil Ballam on 01953 458165 or