In recent years, it has become increasingly common for people to choose to live together rather than to get married or enter a civil partnership. In 2012, there were 5.9 million people cohabiting in the UK, double the figure in 1996. This makes cohabitation the fastest growing family type in the UK.

Cohabitation refers to a person living with their partner to whom they are not married or in a civil partnership with. Many people wrongly believe that with the passage of time, cohabiting couples enjoy the same rights as married couples. There is an illusion that living together for a number of years earns a couple the title of ‘common law husband and wife’. This misconception can unfortunately lead to a cohabiting couple being left in a vulnerable position should the relationship break down.

For example, if you cohabit with your partner in a property which is in their sole name and your relationship breaks down, the Court has little power to alter the property rights, regardless of whether you and your partner have children together or have both been contributing to the mortgage and other outgoings. It may be that a proprietary interest can be argued in your favour; however the rights and remedies available to you in family law are drastically reduced in comparison to those available to persons who are married or in a civil partnership. Similarly, if you and your partner cohabit in a property that is owned jointly and the relationship later breaks down the general principle is that you will each be entitled to a half share regardless of whether one party contributed more or has children living with them. Also you will both being equally liable for any mortgage debt, regardless of whether you have had to leave the home.

Safeguards can be put in place for cohabiting couples. You can enter into a Cohabitation Agreement which details what you agree should happen in the event of any future separation. Such an agreement will be legally binding if made under the right conditions. It is therefore wise to seek professional legal advice whether you are entering into a cohabitation relationship or indeed if the relationship has ended and there are issues to be resolved.

It is also important to be aware that a cohabitee can seek protection from the Courts if their partner is physically, mentally, verbally or emotionally abusive towards them. If you are in this position, you should contact a solicitor at the earliest possible opportunity.

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