Do Cohabiting Couples Have Legal Rights?

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More and more couples across England and Wales are living together without getting married, but many mistakenly assume they have the same legal rights as a married couple, especially if they’ve been living together (cohabiting) for a long time.

But this isn’t actually the case, so in this article, we want to dispense with a few myths and outline some of the legal facts behind cohabiting with your partner.

For initial advice get in touch with our Family Law Solicitors.

There are No Automatic Rights

There is no strict legal definition of cohabitation under UK law, so there’s no entitlement to property or finances if you split up. There’s also no automatic entitlement to your partner's Estate in the event of death, even if you have children with your deceased partner, unless the deceased had made a Will.

Without a Will, You May Still be Entitled to Money

If your partner suddenly passes away, the last thing you want to worry about is money, but as we’ve said, there’s a chance you won’t be entitled to what they leave behind if no Will has been drawn up.

However, there are exceptions where you may still be entitled to financial redress. If you can prove that during the relationship you were financially dependent on your deceased partner, then under the Provision for Family and Dependants Act 1975, you may have grounds for a claim.

A Court Order May be Needed to Sell a Property

If you’re a joint owner of a property with your partner, but they’re reluctant to sell it, you may need to obtain a Court Order to facilitate this. The property must also be registered at the HM Land Registry.

Your Partner Can Access Joint Bank Accounts if You Split Up

If you have a joint bank account, you both have full access to it, even if only one person pays into it. So if you split up, you can both still legally access the funds in the account. Therefore, if you’re the sole person depositing money into a joint account and you separate from your partner, it’s a good idea to close the account as soon as possible.

You’re Only Liable for Debts in Your Own Name

Similar to with bank accounts, you’re only liable for debts in your own name, and not any debts solely in your partner's name. You might, however, be responsible for debts which are in joint names or debts which are joint and several. So if a creditor is owed money from one partner, they may pursue the other partner for their respective share of the debt.

In England and Wales for example, if you owe Council Tax, you and your partner are responsible for the debt, regardless of if only one of you contributes or not. And if you served as a guarantor for your partner, and they amass debt which they can’t pay, you may be held legally responsible for paying it.

No Automatic Parental Responsibility

If you move in with your partner and they have their own children from a previous relationship, you won’t automatically be granted Parental Responsibility or be named as their guardian.

If you'd like to know more about what it means legally to live with your partner, then get in touch with one of our Family Law Solicitors. We can advise on all the legal implications of cohabiting and help you draw up a Cohabitation Agreement, so you can formalise various aspects of your relationship to give you greater legal protection.

Cohabitation Agreements are legally binding in England and Wales providing that the agreement is written correctly.

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