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Unmarried couples: What rights do you have?

In recent years, it is becoming more common for couples to cohabit without getting married.

People often assume that unmarried couples have the same legal rights as married couples or couples in a civil partnership. This misconception is known as ‘Common Law Marriage’ and is largely misunderstood.

The Basic Position

Common Law Marriage has no legal validity in the UK. Only married couples or those in a civil partnership can rely on the laws about dividing up finances when the relationship breaks down.

The default position is that an individual will keep their property or their share of any jointly owned property when a relationship breaks down. If one partner were to die, the other would have no automatic right to the deceased’s share of the property unless the property was held by the couple as joint tenants. The deceased’s share of the property would be distributed according to the terms of their Will or if they did not have one, the rules of intestacy. This often leaves couples with no more rights than if they were two strangers.

It is therefore important for unmarried couples to make a Will if they are cohabiting, especially if they have been married to a partner previously.

Protection for Unmarried Couples - Cohabitation Agreements

A cohabitation agreement is a contract between two individuals in a relationship. It can be drafted by a solicitor. The agreement can include a variety of things. It can set out what will happen if the relationship breaks down, or one cohabitee dies. For example, how the couple’s assets will be determined or arrangements for children. The agreement can also set out arrangements while living together including how the couple pays rent or bills.

Regardless of what is in the agreement, it must evidence the intention and expectation of both parties and be signed freely and voluntarily.

Should I Enter a Cohabitation Agreement?

If you are cohabiting with a partner and have no intention of getting married or entering a civil partnership in the immediate future, it would be beneficial to create a cohabitation agreement.

A cohabitation agreement can offer a form of financial protection and security over your affairs. It can also help avoid additional conflict and futile litigation on the breakdown of a relationship. Before entering into any agreement, you should gain legal advice and guidance.

If you would like to discuss cohabitation agreements with an experienced member of our team, please contact us today on 01745 536030 to see how we can help.

Blog written by Tayla Rees | Paralegal