Common law and co-habitation: fact and fictions

When you first start life together as a couple, it seems so easy: move in together, share the bills, perhaps get a mortgage, buy new stuff, think about a family. However, if you live together and are not married or in a civil partnership, you have no legal status as a couple.


Legal status of common law spouses

The phrase “common law husband/wife” is often used by unmarried couples who live together and have done so for some time, but again, this arrangement has no legal status or recognition. So, if the relationship breaks down, there is precious little protection for either party.

his and hers toothbrushes (pink and blue) over a glassFinancial consequences of cohabitation breakdown

In 2007, the Law Commission published a report on cohabitation that examined the financial implications of the relationship breaking down. This report recommended:

“The introduction of a new statutory scheme of financial relief on separation based on the contributions made to the relationship by the parties.”*

However, in 2011, the Government decided not to implement the recommendations. 


It was a missed opportunity that highlights the major financial consequences of choosing not to get married, if you are in a long term relationship which subsequently breaks down. However, there are options that help establish your status.


Cohabitation agreements

Cohabitation agreements (aka living together agreements or cohabitation contracts) help establish the rights and obligations of both partners in a relationship. Whilst not legally enforceable, these agreements form an excellent basis for clarifying the original arrangements and intentions should the relationship end. As experienced family lawyers, we always recommend such agreements to couples that either plan to live together or are already doing so, but don’t want to marry or enter into a civil partnership.


Cohabitants who buy a house together should also consider other legally enforceable agreements, to cover this and other major financial commitments.


How LGFL can help

At Leiper Gupta Family Lawyers, we specialise in helping couples both at the start and the end of their relationships. We can help you draw up a cohabitation agreement that covers the essential elements of living together, including:

  • Separate and/or joint bank accounts
  • Children and parental responsibilities
  • Financial support for children
  • Appointing a legal guardian for any children
  • Inheritance issues in the event of the death of one partner
  • Rental and joint tenancies
  • Payment of mortgage and utilities


We can also offer advice for unmarried fathers or unmarried female partners in a same sex relationship, to gain parental responsibility through various methods such as drawing up a parental responsibility agreement and registering it at court.


Separation Issues for Cohabitants

Sadly, when a relationship breaks down, there are many issues that need to be resolved quickly, such as who owns a family home or holds the tenancy. The resolution of these issues is inevitably more complex for unmarried couples, such as proving ‘beneficial interest’ if one partner owns the house, for example.

At LGFL, we have the knowledge and experience to look at the whole picture, to identify issues that may arise (or have arisen), and offer advice on the best way to resolve them. We are also committed to finding effective solutions with the minimum of stress to those involved, especially children. It’s why many couples from Hampshire, London and even abroad choose us to help them at this most difficult period of their lives.

If you would like to talk through a cohabitation agreement, or to discuss the implications of splitting from your partner, call us for a free, no obligation 30 minute consultation. After all, taking 30 minutes from your day now could save weeks of upset and hassle further down the line.







*Parliament publication


See also:

Advice Guide Advice Guide