Today’s rise in the number of cohabiting couples has highlighted the need for a clear understanding of the legal protections available to them, whether they choose to marry or not. Here are some main points to know if you are a cohabiting couple.
What legal protection is there for unmarried couples who live together?
Many people believe that if they have lived together for a long time but are unmarried, they have the same rights as married couples or those in a civil partnership. There are more than 3.6 million cohabiting couples in the UK and this number continues to grow. Yet, currently, they have very few legal rights when the relationship ends through separation or if one partner dies.
How can I protect myself or my partner if we are unmarried or not in a civil partnership?
Living together without being married or in a civil partnership means you do not have many legal rights concerning finances, property and children. If you are unsure about your rights, you should seek legal advice from a solicitor who may advise you to consider making a will or entering into a cohabitation agreement to protect your interests.
I live with my partner in their house; will I be entitled to a share of the equity if we split up?
- You will not usually have any rights to the property if you don’t own the property or don’t own a share in it. Alternatively, you would have to prove that you have:
contributed to the deposit for the house or the mortgage payments or
- made a financial commitment, like paying for significant work on the house, with the understanding that you would own a share of the house
However, this can be a lengthy and expensive process; if you are unsuccessful with any claim, you may have to pay the other parties’ legal costs.
If you agree that you should both have a share in a property, you can transfer the property into a joint tenancy with the help of a solicitor.
Is it correct that a house will not be sold if children are are there if the parties are unmarried?
In a word, no. Do not expect a property sale to be delayed whilst dependent children live there if you are not married or in a civil partnership. The law for these couples is very different from that of those who are married or in a civil partnership and you will not be afforded the same protection. Blended families can include children from previous relationships and there is no automatic right for the court to consider the housing needs of children when parties are unmarried.
Is the law likely to change for cohabiting couples?
Reform for cohabiting couples is needed and has been discussed for several years. In August 2022, a call for reform to family law in England and Wales to better protect cohabiting couples and their children from financial hardship in the event of separation was rejected by the government. In its response to the published report, the government stated that existing work on the law of marriage and divorce must be concluded before it can consider changes to the law regarding the rights of cohabitants. Change may be coming but it is not immediately on the horizon.