Personal Law
March 11, 2024

Cohabitation: What are your legal rights and protections?

Cohabitation has become increasingly common, with more and more couples choosing to live together without getting married or entering into a civil partnership. However, it is important to note that cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights and protections as married couples. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the legal landscape surrounding cohabitation, including the rights and responsibilities of cohabiting couples, the financial implications of cohabitation, and steps you can take to protect your interests.

What is Cohabitation?

Cohabitation refers to the situation in which a couple live together and share a domestic life without being married or in a civil partnership. It is important to understand that there is no legal recognition of a 'common law marriage' in the UK, meaning that cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights and protections as married couples.

Legal Rights and Protections for Cohabiting Couples

Property Rights

When it comes to property rights, the legal position for cohabiting couples is complex. Unlike married couples, cohabiting couples do not automatically have rights over property owned by their partner. If the property is solely owned by one partner, the other partner has no legal entitlement to it, regardless of the length of the relationship or any financial contributions made, unless it can be proved that there was an agreement that they should have an interest in the property. However, there are steps that cohabiting couples can take to protect their interests in a property, such as entering into a Declaration of Trust or a Cohabitation Agreement.

A Declaration of Trust is a legally binding document that sets out each partner's ownership rights and financial interests in a property. It can specify the respective shares of each partner and what should happen to the property in the event of a breakup or the death of one of the partners. This can provide clarity and fairness, ensuring that both partners are protected.

A Cohabitation Agreement is a legal document that covers various aspects of the cohabiting couple's relationship, including property ownership, financial responsibilities, and arrangements for children. It can be tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of the couple and provides a clear framework for resolving disputes and protecting each partner's rights.

Financial Responsibilities

In terms of financial responsibilities, cohabiting couples do not have the same legal obligations as married couples. Each partner is responsible for their own financial affairs, and there is no automatic duty to provide financial support to the other partner upon separation. However, if there are children involved, both partners have a legal duty to financially support their children. Child maintenance can be arranged through the Child Maintenance Service, ensuring that the children's financial needs are met.

Inheritance and Wills

One area where cohabiting couples face significant challenges is inheritance. Unlike married couples, cohabiting partners do not have an automatic right to inherit from each other. If one partner dies without a valid will, the surviving partner may not receive any inheritance. It is, therefore, crucial for cohabiting couples to make wills to ensure that their assets are distributed according to their wishes. By making a will, you can specify who should inherit your property, possessions, and financial assets, providing security and peace of mind for your partner.

Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility refers to the legal rights, duties, and responsibilities that a parent has towards their child. In the case of cohabiting couples, the father will only have parental responsibility if he is named on the child's birth certificate.

Legal Reform and Future Changes

There have been calls for legal reform to provide greater protection for cohabiting couples. The Law Commission has recommended changes to the law to improve the rights and financial protections for cohabiting partners. However, as of now, no significant changes have been implemented. It is important for cohabiting couples to be aware of their legal rights and to take proactive steps to protect their interests.

Protecting Your Interests as a Cohabiting Couple

Given the limited legal rights and protections for cohabiting couples, it is essential to take proactive steps to safeguard your interests. Here are some measures you can consider:

  1. Declaration of Trust: If you are purchasing a property together or moving into a property owned by your partner, consider creating a Declaration of Trust. This legally binding document will outline each partner's ownership rights, financial contributions, and what should happen in the event of a breakup or the death of one partner.
  2. Cohabitation Agreement: A Cohabitation Agreement is a comprehensive legal document that covers various aspects of your cohabiting relationship. It can address property ownership, financial responsibilities, arrangements for children, and other important matters. By having a Cohabitation Agreement in place, you can establish clear guidelines and protect your rights in the event of a dispute or breakup.  
  3. Making a Will: Making a will is crucial for cohabiting couples. Without a will, your partner may not automatically inherit your assets. By making a will, you can ensure that your partner and any children are provided for and that your assets are distributed according to your wishes.
  4. Parental Responsibility: If you are a father and not named on your child's birth certificate, consider obtaining parental responsibility through a parental responsibility agreement or a court order. This will give you legal rights and responsibilities towards your child.
  5. Seek Legal Advice: If you have concerns about your legal rights and protections as a cohabiting couple, it is advisable to seek legal advice from a family law solicitor. They can provide guidance tailored to your specific circumstances and help you understand your legal position.


Cohabitation presents unique challenges and legal complexities. Cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights and protections as married couples, which can leave them financially vulnerable in the event of a breakup or the death of a partner. It is essential for cohabiting couples to be aware of their legal rights and to take proactive steps to protect their interests. By considering measures such as a Declaration of Trust, a Cohabitation Agreement, and making a will, cohabiting couples can establish clear guidelines and ensure that their rights and assets are protected. Seeking legal advice from a family law solicitor is also recommended to navigate the intricacies of cohabitation law and ensure that you fully understand your legal position.

Need to talk to us?

Our friendly family team are here to help and advise on family law matters, including Cohabitation Agreements, Declaration of Trusts and other family legal matters. Please get in touch via email at For further information on all our family law services, please click here.

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We offer an initial one hour fixed fee appointment with one of our friendly family solicitors for £100 +VAT. This gives you the opportunity to talk your matter through with a solicitor, get their advice and then consider your options before deciding how to progress your legal matter. Please get in touch if you feel this type of appointment would be beneficial.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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