Unmarried Couples and Cohabitation

The family law solicitors at JMW can provide you with expert legal advice if you live with your partner without being married or in a civil partnership. Cohabitation rights are much more patchy and complex than many people think, so it’s vital you seek assistance to ensure you are protected in the event you separate or if your partner dies.

To speak to a lawyer about your rights and obligations relating to property and maintenance, get in touch today. Either call us on 0800 652 5577 or fill in our online enquiry form and let us know a convenient time to get back to you.

The Law & Cohabitation

Under the law of England and Wales, there is no such thing as a ‘common law spouse’. As it currently stands, the law often leads to injustices for cohabiting couples if they separate or if one of them dies, but there are steps you can take to improve the situation.

Regardless of whether you are moving in with someone or you are currently cohabiting with your partner, you need to make sure your financial rights are protected, particularly if your property is owned rather than rented. An appropriately put together written agreement called a cohabitation agreement can help to reduce some of the uncertainty that may arise in the event a relationship breaks down.

What is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is a legally binding document entered into by two people who either are or are about to start living together and sets out their financial obligations to one another. This can be as simple as setting out how the proceeds of sale of a property will be divided if the relationship ends, or as complicated as a lengthy document dealing with all elements of a couple’s financial life together. For instance, the agreement might:

  • Deal with how much each partner will contribute towards household expenses
  • Clarify the ownership of expensive items, such as cars or jewellery
  • Set out how a shared property would be dealt with in the event of separation

The aim of a cohabitation agreement is to reduce the uncertainty that can often result when couples sharing a home decide to go their separate ways.

Types of Cohabitation Disputes

The family law solicitors at JMW specialise in advising cohabitees on their rights. We have many years of experience advising on a whole range of cohabitation issues.

Property Claims

Disputes arising between cohabitants involve complex trusts and property law, often resulting in significant legal costs. We can help guide you through this process, whether you are protecting or fighting for your rights.

An example of a common property dispute is when a couple has bought a house together but has put in different amounts for the deposit. The best way to make sure this is reflected when you sell the house is by setting it out in clear terms in a written document before the purchase goes through. However, many couples do not enter into a cohabitation agreement and there are options to resolve property disputes either through the courts or via a process of negotiation and agreement.

Cohabitation agreements and deeds of trust

This document could be something as simple as a short declaration saying that person A is entitled to 45% of the net proceeds of sale and person B is entitled to the remaining 55%, for example. Alternatively, you may have agreed that one of you will have the first £20,000 and the balance will be divided equally. There are very many possibilities. Having a written document should take away the uncertainty that can arise in the event of the relationship breaking down in the future.

Find out more about cohabitation and the family home in our infographic:

Cohabitation and the Family Home

Financial Provision for Children

If you have children but are not married or in a civil partnership with the other parent, the court can make financial orders under the Children Act 1989. If financial resources are available, a parent may be expected to provide any dependent children and the person caring for them with a home and the means to meet their needs.

Although most child maintenance payments are dealt in accordance with the Child Maintenance Service scheme (the successor of the Child Support Agency) rather than the courts, judges can still order that this maintenance be topped up where the paying party’s income is very high (exceeds £156,000).

Where the financial resources are available, the court can order a parent to pay or contribute towards school fees, provide a home for the child and their main carer to live in while the child is dependent, and provide funding for other items such as a car and furniture for the home. The amount and type of provision will depend very much on your individual circumstances and those of your former partner.

Parental Responsibility

Unmarried fathers do not automatically receive parental responsibility and this can have far-reaching consequences. There are ways of obtaining parental responsibility even when the situation is contentious. The family law team at JMW can guide you through this process. To read more about parental responsibility, visit our Arrangements for Children page or read our article.


  1. My partner and I are splitting up. He doesn't want to sell our house and refuses to discuss buying me out. Can you help me?

    Yes. The majority of disputes of this nature can be dealt with by negotiation, without the need for court proceedings. However, in a small minority of cases the only way to break the deadlock is to make an application to the court to order the sale of a disputed property and make a ruling as to how the proceeds are to be divided. This is very much a last resort but the option is there to make sure this type of situation does not carry indefinitely.

  2. Do I have any rights if I live in my partner's home and it is in their name only?

    This is potentially a very complicated situation. It is possible for a person who is not the legal owner of a property but has nevertheless made certain types of contribution towards it to acquire financial interest in it.

    If a cohabiting relationship breaks down and the parties’ respective rights and interests have not been spelt out in advance, there can be a very high level of uncertainty and, in some cases, expensive litigation can follow. You can reduce this uncertainty by signing up to a cohabitation agreement.

Why Choose JMW?

As experts in cohabitation rights and unmarried property disputes, the team of family lawyers at JMW understands the legal issues affecting cohabiting couples. We are committed to ensuring your rights are protected and you receive what you deserve when a relationship breaks down or your partner dies.

We understand the complexities of such cases and will help you to understand exactly what decisions will mean for you and your partner. Our belief is that a pragmatic and no-nonsense approach works well to ensure that we are able to be the best that we can be.

As JMW is a full service law firm and cohabitation covers many other areas of law, including property and trusts, we have specialists on hand from other departments to collaborate on your case and offer the same commitment and high standards of care for which we are known.

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If you’re involved in a complex cohabitation dispute, or want to protect your interests as part of a couple who live together but are not married or in a civil partnership, our solicitors are here to help. Contact the team at JMW today to discuss your situation, call 0800 652 5577 or fill in our online enquiry form and we will get back to you.

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