Cohabiting couples and their rights in family law

8th March 2015 by


If you are living with your partner and you are unsure what would happen to you or any children of the partnership, in the event of relationship breakdown, the advice of an experienced family law solicitor in London, Brighton or elsewhere in the UK could help you to achieve greater security should the worse happen.

More and more couples are choosing to live together without getting married or entering into a civil partnership and, although they might think that they have some ‘common law’ rights once they have cohabited for a while, the notion of common law husbands and wives has not existed in England and Wales since 1753.

In fact, a cohabiting couple has little or no legal protection under UK family law (May 2010) and, although there have been many calls for reform, what currently happens to a non-married couple when they split up is unregulated, ungoverned and can, at times, be unfair.

Top family law advice for couples living together

  • For couples who rent their home – It may be advisable to put both names on the tenancy agreement, so that one partner does not have the ability to force the other out in the event of a split. And if a new tenancy agreement is signed, cohabiting couples should ensure it is a joint tenancy agreement.
  • For couples who own their home – If one partner is moving into a home which belongs to their partner, the couple should think carefully about how the ownership affects what would happen if the couple suffers a split. Also, if a cohabiting couple decide to buy a property together, consideration should be made as to how the ownership of the property would be impacted by a split. The advice of an experienced solicitor is paramount in this situation.
  • Make wills – It may seem irrelevant to make a will, especially when a couple are starting out together, but without a will all property and assets would pass to the deceased’s closest blood relatives and not their partner. This can cause hardship and acrimony and may not have been what the deceased wanted at all.
  • For cohabiting fathers without parental responsibility – In the event of a split an unmarried father can seek parental responsibility through the family law courts or make a parental responsibility agreement with the children’s mother and this will afford an unmarried father equal rights of responsibility in the children’s upbringing.
  • Pension schemes for cohabiting couples – Some schemes will not pay survivor’s benefits if the couple are unmarried. It may be wise to check any pension schemes and to consider building separate pension funds to support both partners.
  • Draw up a living together agreement – Like pre nuptial agreements, living together agreements aren’t yet recognised fully in English and Welsh family law. However, the court will usually follow wishes prescribed in the agreement if it produces a fair outcome for all members of the family and if both partners were honest about their finances when the agreement was made. A court is also likely to uphold terms of the agreement if both parties sought the advice of a family law solicitor and particularly if the agreement were then signed and witnessed as a formal ‘deed’ – a legal contract between the two parties.

Healys family law solicitors in London and Brighton for unmarried couples’ advice

If you are an unmarried or non-civil partnered couple, the experienced family law lawyers at Healys can help advise on the drawing up of a living together agreement, or, if things have progressed unfavourably in your relationship, we can represent you in pursuing or defending a financial claim through the family law courts.

Our experienced family law solicitors in London and Brighton will offer straightforward, yet sensitive, advice on your individual legal situation. Please call direct to Catherine Taylor on 01273 669 124 or e-mail on