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Family Law

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6 minutes reading time (1125 words)

Cohabiting advice

Cohabiting advice

For any family law Guildford issues or queries, here at Gregorian Emerson Family Law Solicitors we are best placed to offer you up to date and easy to understand legal advice.

The reality of ‘common law marriage’    

There is a popular misconception that many couples have, where if you move in together you somehow create a ‘common law marriage,’ which entitles you to the same benefits and protections as if you are married – this is far from the truth and ‘common law marriages’ actually have no legal standing in UK law. The reality is that by moving in together you are not afforded automatic rights to each other’s property, possessions, investments or pensions, no matter how long the relationship or the length of time spent cohabiting. This can come as quite a shock to many couples, especially in cases where one partner has died, as the surviving partner will not automatically be qualified to inherit anything at all. This can have potentially devastating consequences for the surviving ‘common law’ spouse as they can potentially lose property and possessions, simply because they are not married in the eyes of the law.

In a strange twist of UK law, if you are cohabitees and there are children involved, both partners may be entitled to responsibilities and rights, even if only one of you is the biological parent. Don’t worry though, we are here to help guide you through all of this and let you know all options open to you, before you need to make any decisions.

If one of you owns the shared property solely in their name. 
The property owner is the only person entitled to live there.  Anyone else is with the permission of the owner.
If the relationship breaks down the owner can ask the other person to leave.
The owner is also entitled to make any decisions regarding the property i.e. selling it, without either the permission or agreement of their partner.

There may be some rights afforded if:
The owner has agreed, in writing, that the other party is entitled to a share of the home.
The other party has contributed financially to the property (i.e. paying part of the bills/mortgage) on the understanding they are entitled to a share of the property.
If the other party has given up employment on the understanding this entitles them to a share.
Where there are children involved the non-owner parent can apply to the court for permission to continue living there, where this is in the children’s best interests for their welfare.

Owning the property jointly can alleviate some problems, but can also throw up others in the event of a separation or divorce.
For instance; if one of you decides to leave you cannot force the other to sell it, you would need to apply for a court order to facilitate this.
If you are left in the property due to the other party leaving, then you are likely to be liable for the full mortgage payments.
Where one person contributed financially significantly more than the other, you would both be entitled to an equal share in the property, unless you have agreed something different beforehand.

If the shared property is rented in one name only.
The person named on the rental agreement is the person with the legal right to live there.
They are also the person responsible for paying the rent, bills etc.
The unnamed tenant will have to agree a new tenancy if the named person decides to leave the property, as they have no right to stay there once the named person leaves.
The unnamed tenant will have required permission from the landlord to move in, so if the named person asks them to leave they are required to give a reasonable notice period.

If you are cohabiting you have no legal obligation to support each other financially, either when you are in a relationship or when you split.
You do not automatically qualify for shared ownership of any property, savings, pensions or investments etc.   Basically this means that, if you buy something yourself, with your own money it is yours: if you buy something together, you have equal share in it, or in proportion to the amount each person paid: Whatever you owned individually before you cohabited remains the property of that individual: Any gifts from one of you to the other are just that, gifts and are the property of the receiver – this can be hard to prove unless there is written evidence to support this.
As you can expect, finances in family law Guildford is quite a complex area, so for more information pertaining to your individual circumstances please feel free to contact us on 01483 826740, where we can be of more assistance.

What happens when one of you dies?
As a cohabiting couple you will have no automatic right to inherit if one of you dies. You may be a beneficiary under their will, but as a beneficiary you may be subject to inheritance tax – there are no exceptions in law for unmarried couples.
You will also not be entitled to the Bereavement Support Payment afforded to married couples.
You will also not be entitled to any state benefits or pensions paid to your former partner – private pensions or insurances will need to be checked individually as each company and policy can vary greatly and may or may not make provision for a cohabiting partner.


A written Cohabitation agreement is an excellent resource to avoid disputes and problems in the future.  We can put clear arrangements in there as to how the property is owned and the rights of each of you to live there. We can also set out how much you will each be contributing financially to a joint account for the bills etc.  It can also be used to set out any childcare arrangements you want in place too, so that everyone is clear on their role, not just financial, but personal too.  Whilst not all areas of a cohabitation agreement are legally binding, they will show a court that an arrangement was in place and agreed, prior to any separation etc. in the future.  This will help a court to reach any decisions more quickly for you.  We can help with all areas of this for you and answer any queries you may have pertaining to it.

For all your Family law Guildford queries, please feel free to contact us on 01483 826470, where we can go through your individual circumstances with you and help you to achieve a satisfactory outcome.  With many years of expertise in the field of family law, make us your choice of contact to resolve your issues.

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