What are your rights when living together?

It is a common myth that after a certain period of time, cohabiting couples become ‘common law’ spouses, enjoying the same rights and legal protection of married couples. However, this is not the case.

In the eyes of the law, whether you’ve lived with a partner for one or twenty years you are not legally recognised as a couple. Consequently, if the relationship breaks down or one partner dies, the remaining partner is legally vulnerable when it comes to sorting out finances, property and the arrangements for any children you share together.

While couples who live together may make verbal agreements between themselves over who pays the mortgage, rent or bills and who has responsibility for childcare, without some sort of legal document this is meaningless if things go wrong. So, in the event of a breakup, the law cannot help you to reach a fair settlement on property rights or child maintenance payments.

Similarly, if there is a medical emergency or one partner dies, the other person will not be treated as next of kin. This means they will not have any automatic right to see their partner in hospital or to inherit a share of property and possessions.

Fortunately, there are legal steps cohabiting couples can take to ensure they both have a level of legal protection.

Cohabitation Agreement

A Cohabitation Agreement is a way to formalise your status of living together and can be used to outline the rights and obligations of each partner towards the other. It is a way to establish your joint intentions for property, children and finances. Any arrangements are tailored to your specific circumstances from who cares for the children to who walks the dog. A Cohabitation Agreement is a binding contract which can be enforced by the courts. In the event of a split, this type of agreement can help to minimise both the added stress and expense of breaking up the household.

Declaration of Trust

This is a legal agreement outlining how you share your property and how the proceeds of a sale will be apportioned if the property is sold. For example, if you are buying a property together but one person has put in a larger share of the deposit, a Declaration of Trust will ensure that they receive the correct proportion of money back, if the property is sold.

Making a Will

Without a will citing each other as beneficiaries of any property, savings, pensions or possessions, cohabitees have no legal rights in the event of a death. Making a Will together will ensure that your estate passes along with your wishes upon death.


When you move in together, nobody wants to think about the relationship ultimately breaking down, but it is important for both of you to ensure you are legally protected should anything go wrong. If you would like to discuss any of these issues with one of our solicitors, we offer an initial consultation of up to one hour for £50.00 (Incl. VAT), where you can receive further guidance specific to your personal circumstances.  To book an appointment, please contact 01444 472700, email info@tisshawssolicitors.co.uk or complete the form below.

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