Cohabitation is becoming more and more popular as couples choose to live together before getting married and having children, or even avoid getting married entirely. However, changes to the law can often take decades to catch up to how people are living their lives and this can cause problems for couples who choose to live in this way. Co-habitation is easily one of the most misunderstood aspects of family law, and there are many harmful myths around cohabitation that most people believe, which could potentially cause them problems if they are cohabiting and the relationship breaks down. In this post, we discuss the common myths and the rights that cohabiting couples have.

The myth of the common law marriage

The myth that cohabiting couples have the same rights as married couples after a certain number of years of living together is one of the most common, and easily the most harmful myth surrounding cohabitation. In fact, unless there is a cohabitation agreement or other legal agreements in place (such as agreements relating to property) then cohabiting couples have no more rights than other couples who live separately. This means that if your partner owns a home that you live in, and your partner passes away, you do not automatically have a right to stay in the home unless it has been left to you in their will, whereas if you were married then you would have an automatic right to stay.

What about children?

Under UK law, the birth mother automatically has full parental responsibility, however if the father is not named on the birth certificate and is not married to the birth mother, then the father has no automatic parental rights unless they are given by the birth mother. While this may not be a problem while the mother and the father are together, if the relationship breaks down, the father can be prevented from seeing the child.

What about the things we have purchased together?

Although in most instances, if you are cohabiting, your possessions, your income and any other assets will remain your own, this is not always the case. If the home is in one persons name, the other person can potentially claim a share of it in some circumstances, although this can be very complicated. If a home has been bought in joint names, unless the documents with the land registry indicate what share each person owns, it will be assumed that the property is owned in equal shares (even if one person paid more towards it than the other).

How can we have more rights when cohabiting?

The best way to cement your rights when you are cohabiting, so that you have similar rights to married couples upon the event of a relationship breakdown is to create a cohabitation agreement that details what each partner owns, each partner’s responsibilities (e.g how much each of you pay towards a mortgage or bills) and what happens to property and your children if the relationship were to end.  Cohabitation agreements are not generally expensive, and can save both you and your partner a lot of time, money, stress and conflict if your relationship comes to an end.

Cohabitation agreements aren’t necessarily right for every couple, and if you are renting, have no children and own few joint possessions, then a cohabitation agreement may be unnecessary. However, if you own property, have children, or both, then a cohabitation agreement can be comforting as both of you will understand what will happen with your property and children should the relationship end.
JCP Solicitors are a firm of family solicitors in Pontypridd who can help you with issues such as cohabitation, family law and divorce.