What Is Cohabiting and Cohabitation?

Cohabitation is more common than ever before. In the UK, the total number of cohabitating couples increased by 144% between 1996 and 2021. However, there are a lot of common misconceptions about cohabitation and common law marriage, especially when it comes to legal rights and protection.

Whether you're just starting your journey as a cohabiting couple or you are seeking clarity about your legal rights, in this article, we'll explore:

  • What is cohabitation?

  • What are my cohabitation rights?

  • How can I protect my legal rights while cohabiting?

  • What are common cohabitation challenges?

  • How do I get legal help with cohabitation?

What is cohabitation?


Cohabitation is when two people live together as a couple, sharing a home and their lives, without being married.

Cohabiting is different to being married or in a civil partnership. That means the laws that apply to married couples aren't the same for cohabiting couples, for example if you split up or one partner dies.

What are my cohabitation rights?

Cohabiting couples have very little legal rights around finance, property and children unless they are proactive in protecting their interests.

That means if you live in your partner’s property and your relationship breaks down or your partner dies, you will not have any rights to the property regardless of whether you have contributed to it financially over the years.

Having said that, you do not have to get married to protect your interests in any property, assets or children you may have together as a cohabiting couple. There are legal steps you can take to do this.

If you do choose to cohabit, it’s important to protect your interests in the event that you split up, or your partner becomes ill or dies. There are a number of ways of doing this:

Cohabitation Agreements

A cohabitation agreement is a legal document between unmarried couples who are living together that outlines what you are entitled to in relation to finance, property and children if you split up, become ill, or die.

They are seen by the family courts as a legal record of the cohabiting couples intentions in the relationship.

While a cohabitation agreement might not sound romantic in the same way a prenup doesn’t, they’re a practical way to protect both you and your partner, especially if you have children or if only one of you owns the home you're living in.

While you can create a cohabitation agreement on your own, it's a good idea to get legal advice to make sure it's fair and legally sound. A family law solicitor can help you understand what should be included, ensure you have sufficient proof that you are cohabiting, and make sure both you and your partner are protected.

Declaration of Trust

Property can often be a contentious issue in cohabitation disputes for a number of reasons, especially if you separate.

When you’re buying a property together and intend to cohabit, a Declaration of Trust can be used to outline how the property will be dealt with if you and your partner separate. Similarly it can be used when only one partner is buying a property but the other will contribute to it financially (such as paying the mortgage).

Making A Will

No one likes talking or thinking about death, but serious challenges can arise if you or your partner dies without a will (intestate).

As cohabiting couples don’t have the same rights as married couples, there’s no guarantee that assets will pass to the remaining partner following death - unless you make a will that makes it clear to whom your property or assets should be passed on to when you die.

Common Cohabitation Challenges

Moving in together as a couple is exciting. But it’s more than just sharing a space – it's about sharing your lives, emotions, and experiences. Common cohabitation challenges often include conflict over:

  • Household responsibilities

  • Financial pressures and money management like saving, budgeting, and spending

  • Alone time vs time spent together

  • Differing routines

To manage these challenges, it’s important to maintain a happy and healthy living arrangement through open and honest communication, setting boundaries, managing expectations and being ready to compromise.

By focusing on these things, you can create a harmonious and fulfilling relationship and mitigate the risk of cohabitation disputes arising.

When it comes to understanding your rights and protecting your future, a qualified family solicitor can be your ally. Legal professionals have the expertise to guide you through the complexities of cohabitation laws and help you:

Create a Cohabitation Agreement: A solicitor can help you draft a comprehensive cohabitation agreement that addresses your specific circumstances and protects both you and your partner.

Understand Your Rights: If you're unsure about your legal rights as a cohabiting couple, consulting a solicitor can provide clarity and prevent future complications.

Navigating Property and Financial Matters: Legal advice is invaluable when dealing with property ownership, financial contributions, and potential disputes.

At Lawhive, we can connect you with the UK’s best family law solicitors in less than 5 minutes and get you a fixed fee price for a cohabitation agreement. To get started, simply tell us about your situation and we’ll take care of the rest, including getting an online family lawyer started on your behalf on the same day if you like!

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