Cohabiting Couples – 7 Things You Need To Know


The Law Of…Living With Your Partner Under UK Law

Lots of couples in the UK opt for cohabitation, whether it's to test the waters before marriage or to lower the costs of renting.  But how many couples know their legal rights where cohabitation is concerned?

Jenine Abdo, Family Law Associate, explains some of the legal facts behind cohabiting with your partner.

1.     There Are No Automatic Rights

While cohabitation is generally taken to mean you are living with your partner, under UK law there is no strict legal definition. Unlike marriage, there are no automatic legal rights, such as entitlement to property or finances upon separation.

There is also no automatic entitlement to your partner's estate in the event of death, even if you have children with your deceased partner, unless a Will has also been drawn up.

2.     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 finances. As mentioned above, if no Will has been drawn up you may not be entitled to what they leave behind. We would always urge any long-standing couple to arrange a will through a solicitor.

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.

3.     A Court Order May Be Needed To Sell A Property

If you are a joint owner of a property with your partner, but they are reluctant to sell it, then you may need to obtain a court order to facilitate this. It should also be noted that the property must be registered at the HM Land Registry.

4.     Bank Accounts And Who Can Access Them

If you and your cohabiting partner have separate bank accounts, then the normal rules apply with neither of you being allowed access to the others account.

If you have a joint account between you, however, then you both have full access to this account regardless of if only one person pays into it. If you are the sole person depositing money into the account and you and your partner separate, it is a good idea to close the account as soon as possible, as your partner can still legally access the funds in the account.

5.     Debts And Who Pays Them

Similar to with bank accounts, you are 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, which means that a creditor who is owed money from one partner 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.

If you served as a guarantor for your partner, and they amass debt which they are unable to pay, you may be held legally responsible for paying it.

6.     Official Legislation Is In The Works

On the 5th of July 2017, the Cohabitation Rights Bill received its first reading at the House of Lords. The second reading, which will consist of the general debate on all aspects of the Bill itself, has not yet been scheduled.

If the Bill is passed, cohabiting couples can expect certain protections under UK law, as well as provisions of property to any deceased parties. For instance, if your cohabiting partner passes away without leaving a will, there will be clearer grounds on ways you may be able to claim.

The most important part of this Bill, from a legal standpoint, is that it will clearly define cohabitation under UK law. The first point of the bill currently defines cohabitants as any two people, either same sex or opposite, who are in a relationship and live together. Though this, as well as the rest of the bill, could be subject to change by the end of its reading in Parliament.

7.     Children And Cohabitation

If your partner has their own children, then moves in with you, this does not automatically grant you parental responsibility, or name you as the guardian of your partner's children.  Should you and your partner wish to discuss either of these then you would have to seek advice from a Family Law Solicitor in relation to these children law related issues.

Need To Know More About Your Rights As A Cohabitant?

If you'd like to know more about what it means legally to live with your partner then contact one of our Family Law specialists today, they can tell you everything you need to know about cohabitation. Get in touch using our freephone number, or using our online enquiry form.

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