Cohabitation – have you thought about the risks?


18 December 2017

By Farhad Islam

With Christmas fast approaching you might be thinking about the next stage of your relationship and asking your partner to move in.

What rights do cohabiting couples have with respect to the property they live in and other assets?

Couples who are unmarried have no automatic right to financial support from each other when they separate. Nor can they register home rights to prevent their partner from selling the house without having an interest in the property in their own right.

Cohabiting couples currently have little or no legal protection – despite the myth of ‘common law marriage.’

There is no such thing as a 'common law spouse' as the law which applies to married couples is very different to that which applies to unmarried couples. In a marriage the commitment to share is reinforced by the law on divorce and empowers the Courts to share assets and incomes between couples on divorce according to factors such as need, contribution, earning capacities, age and health. Sadly, for unmarried couples, the Courts do not have the same powers.

Joint Ownership

As a cohabiting couple, if you purchase a property in joint names there is a presumption that you intend to hold the property equally, unless you specify otherwise.  

It is therefore imperative for you to expressly state your respective share at the time of purchasing. You will need to consider whether property is to be owned as joint tenants or tenants in common. The terminology is confusing, so sound legal advice is essential.

Sole Ownership

If you or your partner own the property in your sole name it is presumed that the property belongs entirely to the registered owner. The burden is then on the other cohabitee to show that you intended to hold the property equally or on different terms. This can of course be unfair on partners who choose to move into each other’s houses without giving any thought to ownership.

Cohabitation Agreement

If you move into your partner's property, to ensure security it is strongly encouraged that you enter into a Cohabitation Agreement, which deals with arrangements such as finances between you when living together and provides for security in the event of your separation. You may otherwise be left in a very vulnerable position even after many years of cohabitation.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

All of our family lawyers are members of Resolution and will be happy to assist you with any Family Law issues. For a free initial consultation please telephone on 01245 228106 or email