What Is A Common Law Partner?

Mariam Abu HusseinLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 14th November 2023

Questions about common law partners often come up when relationships break down. Separating partners who aren’t married most commonly want to know what their rights are when a relationship breaks down in terms of housing and finances


In this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about “common law” partners and common law marriages, including: 

  • What it means to be a common law partner;

  • What rights a common law partner has;

  • Common law partners vs civil partners;

  • How to protect your interests as a common law partner.

What is a common law partner?

A common-law partner is someone who lives with another person in a committed, long-term relationship without a formal marriage or civil partnership. They share their lives in ways resembling marriage but without the legal ceremony. 

A common misconception is that just living together for a set amount of time automatically equals a legal marriage. This isn't accurate in the UK, as common law partners do not have the same legal rights as married couples. 

Legal recognition typically requires marriage or civil partnership or the creation of legal agreements, which will cover more in depth later on.

What rights do common law partners have?

Common law partners, that is couples who are living together who aren’t married, don’t have the same legal rights as married couples, no matter how long they’ve lived together. 

Property Rights

Common law partners don’t have automatic rights to each other’s property or assets. Therefore, when a break up happens, how property is divided depends on who legally owns the property, how each partner has contributed financially, and if there are legal agreements in place (like cohabitation agreements). 


Common law partners do not automatically inherit their partner’s assets if their partner dies without a will. In these cases, intestacy rules come into effect, and assets are distributed according to a specific legal framework. 

Cohabiting partners must have valid wills to explicitly state their wishes regarding inheritance, as the rules of intestacy may not fully accommodate their needs.

Financial Support

Unlike married couples, common law partners do not have to provide financial support to each other following separation.

Child Arrangements and Child Maintenance

If a couple separates, whether they are married or not, they can make arrangements for children relating to who the child lives with, the time they spend with a non-resident parent, and how much a non-resident parent should pay towards supporting the child(ren) financially. 

If couples can’t come to an arrangement, it is possible to apply to the court for a child arrangements order, which formally sets out how things should work


Common law partners aren’t usually entitled to their partner's pension, but certain pension schemes provide options for a person to leave their pension to their partner, whether they are married or not.


In the UK, even if you’re not officially married, the government recognises unmarried partners for immigration purposes. This means that if you’re in a committed and long-term relationship, you may be able to bring your partner to the UK or stay together here. 

To do this, you need to meet certain requirements, like showing that your relationship is strong and has lasted a long time. You’ll also likely need to provide evidence of your relationship, like living together or financial ties.

Note: These laws are subject to change, so it’s wise to consult a family law solicitor or refer to the UK government’s official resources. 

Common law partners vs civil law

As we’ve explained, there are key differences between common law partners and married couples or civil partners. 

  1. Common law partners are couples who have lived together for a while but they’re not married or officially joined in a legal way. 

  2. Civil law partners are couples who have made their relationship official with a legal ceremony, like getting married.

If you and your partner are considering your options, it's essential to carefully weigh the pros and cons and seek legal advice before making any decisions. Remember, thoroughly understanding your situation will help you make informed choices.

Common law partner agreement

Whether you've been living with your partner for a while now or have recently decided to move in together, you can protect your interests and establish your partnership's terms by creating a Cohabitation Agreement, also known as a Common Law Partner Agreement. 

This legal document allows you to specify property rights, financial arrangements, and what happens in case of a breakup. Both partners should agree on the terms and seek legal advice. It's a practical way to ensure clarity and peace of mind in your shared life.

While it’s true that living together without being married doesn’t automatically give you the same rights as a married couple, that doesn’t mean you have to get married. It is entirely possible to make alternative arrangements, such as making a valid will or drawing up a cohabitation agreement, that clarifies things in the eyes of the law. 

Which route you take depends on your circumstances and wishes. 

At Lawhive, our family solicitors are here to help you quickly and affordably create legally binding cohabitation agreements and financial settlements. To get started, get a free case assessment from our legal assessment team to better understand your options and take steps to secure your future. 

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