Cohabiting couples are defined as those who are in a relationship and living together but are not married. According to the House of Commons Library, around 22% of couples aren’t married or in a civil partnership, but live together. If you are not married, the law is very different from those who are married and it’s important you understand what your rights and liberties are. Below, we detail exactly what cohabitation means for you and your partner, should you decide to live together without marrying. If you need legal advice for couples cohabiting, contact our experts today to make an enquiry and discover how we can help you.

Understanding the law around cohabitation

Unmarried couples who live together are commonly referred to as common-law partners, however, this isn’t true under English and Welsh law. Couples who cohabit are protected to some degree by law but unfortunately, cohabiting couples don’t enjoy the same legal rights as those who are married. This means that if the relationship fails or one of the partners passes away, you don’t have the same level of protection for your finances or your property. The amount of time you have both lived together and the type of property you currently live in won’t be considered, should something happen. 

The current law around cohabitation states that you don’t have guaranteed access or rights to savings, pensions or property unless these assets are held in joint names. There can be financial provisions made for couples who have children together. Whilst parents can rely on the Child Maintenance Service for guidance to meet any children’s basic needs, there is also a provision for one parent to seek a financial claim on behalf of any children to meet their needs.

Look into setting up a legal agreement for finances

Before moving in with your partner, it’s important to discuss your finances – this may include savings, property and personal possessions. Drawing up an agreement means that you can set out exactly what you and your partner own from the very beginning. We also recommend specifying who pays certain bills or daily expenses. This is ideal to have should there be a breakdown in the relationship, as it shows what each partner is entitled to. 

If you’d like to consider drawing up a cohabitation agreement, we would recommend seeking the advice of a solicitor who can write one on your behalf.

Make a will

A married couple will have rights to their partner’s assets, unlike a cohabiting couple. This is why it’s important to consider seeking legal advice to draw up a valid will so that the partner can be named as a beneficiary. Whilst you can choose a will-writing service, a solicitor will be able to help negate any disputes that may arise after your death. They are also regulated under the Solicitors Regulation Authority. If you’d like to find out more about drafting a will, take a look at our guide on the benefits of hiring a will-writing solicitor over a will-writing service.

Look into what will be taxed

Married couples and civil partnerships benefit from some tax advantages that those who are cohabiting do not. If a married couple has drafted up a will, anything left to the partner is inheritance tax-free. Mirror wills are ideal for married partners, as they tend to leave each other their assets. Couples who aren’t married will have to pay a 40% tax on any assets that exceed £325,000 in value.

Property ownership

A lot of cohabiting couples tend to buy a property together, but you will need to look into a contract as tenants in common or as joint tenants. These are two very different contracts, so we always recommend seeking legal advice. A joint tenancy contract means you both own the property. Tenants in common refers to each partner owning a specific share of the property. If you choose a joint tenancy, the property will be passed to the surviving partner should the other pass away. Shares can be left to whoever you choose, with a tenants in common contract. 

Advice for cohabiting couples

We understand that the law surrounding cohabiting couples is tricky to navigate through, but our expert solicitors have a wealth of knowledge and experience surrounding your rights. If you’re concerned about anything we’ve discussed in this article, contact our friendly team today and we can help guide you in the right direction, putting your mind at ease. Alternatively, you can take a look at some of our other services.