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The myth of common law marriage among cohabitants

Currently, there are more than 5.9 million people in the UK choosing to live together without getting married. Cohabiting couple families are the fastest growing type of household in the country and many believe that they are protected under common law marriage, however, this is not the case.

What rights do you have as a cohabitee?

Nobody likes to imagine their relationship ending, sadly, however, it does happen.

The bad news for those who believe their assets and interests are protected by ‘common law marriage’ is that it doesn’t matter if you’ve lived together for a matter of months or for many years, there are no laws to dictate how couples who are cohabiting should split their assets in the event of a separation.

As a result, a relationship breakdown can cause serious financial complications as well as emotional stress.

If you do separate, then all is not lost. In some scenarios, assets may be divided even if you are not married.

Jointly owned assets

The first scenario is where you share assets with your ex-partner. If you are a joint owner of property whether big or small, you will be entitled to your share.

How big a share you get will be determined by how both of you agreed to own the property in the first place when it was purchased.

For example if an item was bought on finance then both cohabitants will have documented proof that they share joint ownership of a product or item.

On other occasions communications such as letters, emails and texts can be used to establish who has ownership of the items or property.

Any proceedings that are needed to determine disputed shares in property and decide whether it should be sold or not, can prove very expensive for both parties.

To try and avoid this situation and extra expense, cohabitees should always try to ensure that there is a clear agreement in place from the outset as to who owns what, for example when the property is purchased.

This can be done by consulting one of our conveyancing law solicitors who can help you create a transfer document or a more detailed declaration of trust.

Sharing assets that are held in another’s name

If a former cohabitee holds assets solely in their name that you believe you are also entitled to, it can be very difficult to a pursue a claim.

One way to simplify the claim and ensure you receive the assets you believe you are entitled to, is to prove that the asset was acquired for the benefit of both the cohabitee and yourself.

If you have made a direct contribution to the asset, this can sometimes be enough, however, if your contribution is an indirect one, for example, paying towards your household bills or caring for joint children, this will rarely be enough secure the asset.

Claiming assets on behalf of joint children

If you separate from the partner who you share children with you may be able to claim a lump sum on behalf of the children to cover the purchase of essentials such as baby equipment or a car, however, claims of this nature are comparatively rare.

You may also apply for a settlement of property. This is essentially a purchase or transfer of property that will allow you to provide a home for your children whilst they are under 18 years of age.

A settlement of property will enable you to temporarily use your partner’s money share of a property for a specified length of time, after that time they will be entitled to recover their share.

Finally, you will be able to claim child maintenance for the children who are living with you if the cohabitee is the parent of the child or children.

How much you will be entitled to will be based on your overall gross income. In order to estimate how much child maintenance you may be eligible for, you can use a calculator provided by the Government by clicking here.

What can’t you claim for?

As we mentioned earlier, cohabiting doesn’t give you the same rights as a married couple and therefore there are several things that you will not be entitled to where married couples will be.

The first is maintenance. True you will be able to apply for maintenance payments for your children, but you will not be able to claim for maintenance for yourself, even if you have given up work to care for your children.

You will also be ineligible to claim a share of your partner’s pension or assets (excluding what has been discussed above).

Should you live a long and happy life with your partner and the separation is only caused by their death you may not be guaranteed a share of their estate unless they have made a Will which includes you.

Should your partner forget to include you in their Will, or worse still not make a Will at all, you could face expensive and lengthy claims against the estate.


Whilst cohabitees aren’t afforded the protection that married couples are, there are still measures that can be taken to protect the interest of both cohabitants as we have outlined above.

If you would like to learn more about what you can do to protect the interests of you and your partner then please call us for free on 0800 1979 345 today to arrange an initial consultation.

A member of our family law team will be happy to help you explore your options and help you begin any legal processes that can ensure you are protected in the future.