Member Article

Cohabitees ? common law strife

With Watson Burton LLP Law FirmOf the 4 million people in the UK that cohabit, many are still under the impression that by living “as husband and wife” a common law marriage exists affording them similar rights and protection as for married couples on separation or death. In fact, common law marriage is a concept abolished over 250 years ago with only legal marriages or civil partnerships between same sex couples afforded such protection.Cohabiting couples have very few statutory rights. Whether a couple has lived together as husband and wife for five minutes or fifty years, the law does not oblige any financial support of one cohabitee by the other, even if careers have been given up to bring up children or to take care of the home. Child support is still payable. The financial contributions made by a cohabitee to the purchase or maintenance of their home may be grounds for entitlement to a share in the property. However, if the house is owned solely by one of the cohabitees and no contribution has been made, nor is there any understanding or agreement in place between the parties as to shared ownership, the other cohabitee has no automatic right to stay in the property. Similarly, if a cohabiting couple rents their home in the name of only one of the cohabitants, there is no automatic right to stay. On the death of a cohabitant, if no will has been made, the surviving cohabitee will not automatically inherit anything and will have no right even to the family home if it is solely in the deceased’s name. There is no entitlement to state bereavement benefit or state pension for a cohabitee. The current law does not reflect the tendencies of today’s society and provides little protection for the large numbers of people relying on non-existent common law marriage rights. As a result, the Law Commission have published a consultation paper, “Cohabitation: The Financial Consequences of Relationship Breakdown” proposing rights to be given to cohabitees on the breakdown of their relationship. Although this is a step towards changing the law it is a long process and unlikely, assuming it goes ahead, to take effect until at least 2009. However, cohabitants should be aware of the situation they may find themselves in and that a few simple precautions would provide some much-needed protection. 1. Make a will to provide for your partner in the event of death. 2. If you are buying a house together or moving into a house owned by your partner, consider how you wish it to be owned and the consequences of this. 3. If living in rented accommodation, consider having both names on the tenancy to provide a right to stay in the property. 4. Check your pension scheme and the position regarding cohabitants. If they are not included, it may be advisable to consider building up a separate pension.5. Create a Cohabitation Agreement setting out how the property and money, for example, is to be apportioned in the event of separation to demonstrate an understanding between the parties.If you have any queries in relation to this article, or any other family law matter, please contact Claire Banks at Watson Burton LLP (0191 244 4394 or email

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Ruth Mitchell .

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