Cohabiting couples and their rights

Approximately 3 million couples in the UK prefer to cohabit, rather than get married or enter a civil partnership. For example, you might have chosen to have a religious ceremony, but have not registered your marriage. Cohabitees are sometimes called common-law partners.

Legal rights of cohabitees

Property rights

As a cohabitee you do not have automatic entitlement to property you share.

In case of rental properties only the tenant named in the rental agreement generally has the right to live in the property and is responsible for paying the rent. As a not named tenant, for example:

  • you are likely to need the landlord’s consent to move in;
  • the tenant named on the agreement can ask you to move out at any time.

If the property is owned by one of you, the situation is similar. Only the property owner is the entitled to live there. The owner is also the one making decisions, such as selling the property.

However, even where only your partner owns the property, you may have some rights in certain cases, for example, if:

  • your partner has agreed in writing that you have rights to a share of the property;
  • you contribute financially to the property;
  • if you have children, you can apply for a court order so you can have the right to continue living in the property if this is in the children’s best interests.

Cohabitation and children

From the legal perspective, you make important decision regarding children if you have parental responsibility for them.

If the parents of children are not married, only the mother gets an automatic parental responsibility. As the mother’s partner you will only have parental responsibility if:

  • you are named as the father on the birth certificate (for a child born after December 2003) or
  • if you enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother, get a parental responsibility order or child arrangements order from court, or if you marry the child’s mother.

If you decide to separate, other considerations will apply:

  • the children’s place of residence and their contact with parents is determined taking into consideration the children’s best interests and is not based on who has parental responsibility.
  • If your children live with your former partner, you may be required to pay their maintenance.
  • Ideally, childcare arrangements will be agreed between you, but either of you can apply to the court to help resolve your disputes.

Your rights after your partner’s death

As a general rule, cohabiting partners have no automatic inheritance rights after their partner dies, although they may be a beneficiary under their partner’s will or can inherit the deceased partner’s share if they are joint tenants. If you are a beneficiary, any assets you receive may be subject to inheritance tax – tax exemption does not apply to unmarried couples.

If you have cohabited for at least two years or if you can show that you were financially dependent on your partner, you can make a claim for a financial settlement even when there is not a will in place.


We can help you to draw up a cohabitation agreement which can protect you from risks if you separate or your partner dies. A written cohabitation agreement can detail which contributions you and your partner will make and what share of your home you are both entitled to. Please get in touch with us today on 0203 146 3549 /


All our articles are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information provided.

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