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Living together (cohabitation)

What is the difference between living together and being married?

You do not have legal rights over each other, or legal duties and responsibilities to each other.

The term “common law wife”, “common law husband” or “common law marriage” have no meaning when it comes to legal rights in England and Wales.

If you separate, it can be harder to sort out your affairs if you are not married, particularly if you have money and assets that you share. Splitting up might leave you in a difficult situation because you cannot claim maintenance from your partner, however long you have lived together.

If one of you dies, the surviving person does not have an automatic right to inherit the deceased’s property as you would if you were married.

Can we make our Relationship legal?

There is no need, but it can be a good idea to put in writing any agreement about what things you will share and how, so that if you ever split up, you will know where you stand and it should avoid costly arguments.

You can prepare a “living together agreement” which is a document stating who will pay for what and how you will share the home. You can also say what you think would be fair if you split up.

What if I am gay or lesbian?

You can form a civil partnership instead of getting married. The law is mostly the same for marriage and civil partnership. However, since 29 March 2014 same sex partners can get married, although not in the Church of England or the Church of Wales.

What should we do if we are buying a home together?

You can share the property either as:

  • ”Joint tenancy” which means you each hold an equal half share in the home but as long as the joint tenancy exists neither of you can take the other person’s share; or
  • “Tenancy in common” which means you can state how much you each hold when you but the property – it does not have to be equal shares.

What should I do if I want to split up with my partner?

It is a good idea to take advice from a solicitor who specializes in family and relationship matters. They will tell you where you stand.

What rights do I have if I live in my partner’s home and we are splitting up?

It does not give you any automatic rights there, so if they want to sell it you may not be able to stop them or to stay living there.

If your partner has agreed to share the ownership with you, you should have a say in what happens, but if this agreement was only verbal, you are in a difficult position and will need legal advice. If you have something written down, you are in a much stronger position.

Your position is also stronger if you contribute to the home by helping to pay for it or doing work on it, but this is something that your solicitor will assess and advise you on.

Who has to pay the bills and debts?

While you are living together you can decide who will pay what, but you should be aware of your responsibilities if your relationship breaks down or your partner leaves.

The law says that if you take on a debt (mortgage or loan) jointly, then you will be “jointly and severally liable” for it. This means that if one of you does not pay your share the other can be made to pay the whole lot. If one of you stays living in the home after you separate, then that person would normally pay the mortgage and other bills from then.

If a debt is in your partner’s name only, you cannot be made to pay it.

What happens to the things we own if we are splitting up?

You need to agree who keeps what. If no agreement can be reached, usually if you bought it, you keep it.

What happens to the children if we split up?

You will need to work out where the children will live and how often they should see the parent they do not live with.

Legally, you or your partner’s rights in relation to the children depends on who has parental responsibility.

In many cases this will be obvious, because you and your partner will be named on their birth certificates.

But if, for example, you or your partner had children from a previous relationship before you started living together, the new partner may not have parental responsibility. This means that they may not have the right to decide what happens to the children.

Mediation may help with regard to children, but if it is not suitable you can apply to the Court for an order.

If you have any questions or need any further advice, please do not hesitate to contact us and we will do our best to accommodate you.

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