A cohabiting relationship is when two people choose to live together without making any other commitments that bind one person to the other lawfully. Cohabiting couples can be opposite-sex or same-sex, and are not in a civil partnership or married. It is important to understand what a cohabiting relationship is, and most importantly, what rights each partner has when they are in one.

While we hope that you don’t run into any issues in your cohabiting relationship, we want to ensure that if you ever feel you need support and help, you can rely on our reliable, friendly and hard-working team. We recognise that it doesn’t do any harm to understand what your rights are should you ever need to know them. Contact us today if you have any questions or would like to find out more about how it works.

What rights do I have in a cohabiting relationship?

While cohabiting is as simple as living in the same household with someone you’re in an intimate and committed relationship with, there are rights and responsibilities you should be aware of. What many people in relationships may not realise is that the law gives cohabiting relationships fewer rights on separation or death than for civil partners or married couples. Although a well-heard of phrase, there is no such thing as a “common law man and wife”.

Entering ‘cohabitation’ without being in a civil partnership or married means you do not have as many rights around finances, medical emergencies, property and children. Here, we’ll explain the rights you would be entitled to whilst in a cohabiting relationship.


If you have individual bank accounts and one partner were to pass away, the remaining partner would not be able to legally access their late partner’s account. The same goes for access to pensions; if one partner were to pass away, their pension would not automatically be passed onto the remaining partner. It is important to note here that different rules are set per company –  each one will use different pension companies to handle employee pensions.

When it comes to tax benefits, if one partner wanted to give assets (such as a house) or a large amount of money to their partner, the partner wishing to transfer funds or assets may have to pay tax as they would not receive any tax benefits as a couple.

To read more about financial options for couples in cohabiting relationships, contact our team and we’ll be happy to help with individual needs.

Medical emergencies & death

If one partner were to become ill or pass away, the remaining partner would not have any rights to make arrangements on behalf of their late partner as they would not be classed as their next of kin. Without both partners writing a written agreement before any illnesses or deaths take place, neither party would be able to treat or be treated as next of kin. This means that both partners will not have automatic rights to know what the other person’s state is, what their condition is, whether the illness is treatable or even be able to visit them in hospital. Neither partner would be able to plan care for the other partner unless both have pre-agreed to this in writing.

To find out more about what medical emergency options there are for cohabiting relationships, contact our team for support.


If both spouses rent a home together, they are equally responsible for the rent and other tenancy conditions as long as both names are on the tenancy agreement. If the relationship were to end, meaning one or both partners wanted to move to another property, the person/s moving would need to discuss changing the tenancy agreement with the relevant landlord or letting agent.

Regarding a property that has been purchased together, options from the perspective of being in a cohabiting relationship vary. One option is owning the whole property together (also known as Joint Property Ownership).

When owning a property together, a beneficial option would be to have a cohabitation agreement already in place, as this can simplify things if the relationship were to end. In this agreement, both partners would need to agree on what would happen to the property if separation occurred. If one partner passed away, the remaining partner would automatically inherit the property if it is owned by both partners. It’s important to note here that a will would not change this outcome.

Options also differ if both partners own a share in the property rather than both splitting the full ownership evenly. These shares could be split equally, or they could be split into smaller and larger shares. This is usually agreed upon when one partner pays more of the deposit or mortgage due to owning more savings from earnings, equity in a previous property or inheritance.

Owning shares in a property is called common ownership between two (or more) tenants. If the couple were to separate from their cohabiting relationship, each partner would be entitled to their own share in the property.

In the case of a death, the remaining partner would not automatically inherit the late partner’s share, unless this has been specifically dedicated to them in their will.

If only one partner owns the property, the remaining partner (who doesn’t own the property or own any shares of the property) will not have any rights to the property. To gain rights to a property in this instance, proof of financial contribution towards the house would need to be presented. This could be a payment for a renovation project or major work on the house or contributing towards the deposit for the house or mortgage payments, all with the understanding that a share of the property would be achieved in the future.

If the partnership came to separation, the partner who does not own or have ownership of the house would have no right to continue living in the property. If the partner who owns or has ownership of the property dies, the remaining partner will not automatically inherit the property unless it is left in the late partner’s will.

If after reading this, both parties agree that they should both have a share in the property, there is the option to transfer the property into a joint tenancy or enter into an agreement with reflects this.

If you are just starting out in a new cohabiting relationship it is best to safeguarding any assets you may have in the event of a separation, or if you are buying a property together and one partner is investing more money. You can reflect the ownership of a property by preparing a Declaration of Trust.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you’d like to discuss this or find out more about your property rights in a cohabiting relationship.


If a couple is in a cohabiting relationship and has children together, the father of the couple needs to be on the child’s or children’s birth certificate to make decisions regarding the child, as well as understand Parental Rights and Responsibility.

If a cohabiting relationship comes to an end in the event of separation, the couple has a legal obligation to provide child maintenance (formerly known as Child Support), which applies whether each partner has parental responsibility or not. There is the option to apply for payments and a court can order the other parent to pay through the Child Maintenance Service. Regarding a child or children from a previous relationship, the other parent does not automatically have parental responsibility for them in the event of a separation.

If there is no agreement regarding the arrangements for the children then it may be necessary to apply to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order which can specify with whom the children should live, and how their time should be spent with the other parent. Prior to applying to the Court, you should first attend mediation to attempt to resolve any dispute outside of Court.

Professional protection

Having highlighted the rights couples in cohabiting relationships would have in particular circumstances, we believe it’s crucial to provide your future self with the right knowledge, protection and security. There are many instances where people in cohabiting relationships may have very limited rights and protection in place and it’s important to know where help is available.

To keep yourself protected, it is wise to consider making a will and putting a cohabitation agreement in place to protect you and your partner. If you’d like to find out more information, write a will or a cohabitation agreement with a professional’s help, or simply need someone to talk to further, contact us today.

What is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is a legal agreement reached between a couple who have chosen to live together in a cohabiting relationship, without being in a civil partnership or getting married. This legal agreement means that the couple will have more rights and may be treated more similarly to a married couple, such as when applying for a mortgage or working out child support.

What do cohabitation agreements usually include and decide?

  • The ownership of property
  • The ownership of possessions
  • The matter of paying the bills
  • Liability for debts
  • The ownership of bank accounts
  • The ownership of cars
  • Conclusion of what would happen to possessions if the relationship breaks down.

By deciding, defining and dealing with these matters when you begin your cohabiting relationship, costly disputes and possible court proceedings are avoided if the relationship comes to an end and these agreements cannot be reached. It is difficult to agree on things like costly possessions and outstanding finances when the relationship has ended, and we advise making sure you and your belongings are protected from being affected by negative outcomes.

It is important to note that a cohabitation agreement cannot be enforceable without the signings of both parties, and those signing it must not be placed under any undue pressure or influence. The agreement must be decided on with careful, thorough and clear consideration.

Are you in a cohabiting relationship and need advice on your rights?

It’s crucial that there is a solution in place for you and your partner should anything happen to your cohabiting relationship. If you would like additional information or advice on cohabiting, please contact us today and our expert team will be happy to help. Alternatively, you can browse through our services to find out more about how we can help you.