How to protect your rights when cohabiting

What is cohabitation and what rights do cohabiting couples have?

Cohabitation is when a couple live together in the same property but are not married. With cohabitation now the fastest growing type of family in the UK, it is important that couples protect their rights when deciding to move in together.

There has long been a myth that couples that live together have a ‘common law marriage’ in the eyes of the law. However, this is not the case and cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as married couples.

This means that if the relationship ends or one of you passes away, there is minimal legal protection. It doesn’t matter that you may have lived together for decades, have children together or run a business together, you will not have automatic rights to inherit property or wealth from each other when the relationship ends.

For example, even if one party has been paying all the bills and the mortgage on a property, they are not legally entitled to any share of it unless the property is held in their name. Similarly, unless a father’s name is on a child’s birth certificate, they have no automatic parental responsibility for that child and can be cut out of their life.

Family justice group Resolution is campaigning for more protection for unmarried couples, particularly given the recent trend towards cohabitation over marriage. More information can be found here

However, until such legal reform becomes law, it is important for cohabitants to protect themselves.

Making a Cohabitation Agreement

A cohabiting couple can protect their rights by drawing up a legally binding Cohabitation Agreement. This defines the financial responsibilities and duties of each of you and can be used to decide how property and wealth will be decided in the event of the relationship ending. For example, it could highlight how assets such as pensions and savings will be split and how any jointly owned property would be divided if the relationship ends.

Making a Declaration of Trust

Making a declaration of trust (also known as a deed of trust) is a way to document who owns a property, the level of financial interest in the property of each person and how the money will be divided if the property is sold. Again it helps to avoid uncertainty and provides protection for each of you if the relationship breaks down.

Making a Will

If either of you die without a will, in the eyes of the law you have died intestate. In these circumstances only spouses, civil partners and close family relatives can inherit assets from the deceased. Without a will, cohabitants cannot inherit anything. Again, making a will can protect you both in the event of death.


At Tisshaws we have extensive experience in helping cohabiting couples to protect themselves in the event of relationship breakdown or death. We know how important it is to fully understand the law relating to your individual situation before you commit to any course of action, so we offer a low-cost fixed fee initial consultation.

This no obligation initial consultation costs £100 (incl. VAT) for up to 60-minutes. At this meeting, we can advise you on all the issues relating to your personal circumstances, allowing you to make informed decisions moving forward.

To book an appointment please call 01444 472700, email us at or complete the form below.

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