Cohabitation relates to a couple living together as partners without marrying or entering into a civil partnership. It's what the papers like to refer to as "common law husband and wife" - although that doesn't actually exist in law. It is a messy area of family law and needs clarification. However, there are steps you can take to protect you both.

If a marriage or civil partnership breaks down, the distribution of assets is dealt with by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and The Civil Partnership Act 2004 respectively. These two Acts give the court the obligation and authority to find a solution which is fair to both parties. However, these laws don't apply if the couple were not married or in a civil partnership. The court deals with trust law which isn't so bothered about fairness. The parties have no automatic rights, just because they've been living together a while.

If you split up . . .

  • If the tenancy of your rented home is in your ex's name only, you have no automatic right to stay in it.
  • If your ex owns the home, you will have no automatic right to stay.
  • Your ex will keep all the savings and possessions in their sole name.
  • Things bought together with each contributing different amounts to the cost, will be owned by you both in the shares in which you contributed.

The onus will be on you to prove that the legal ownership doesn't reflect the true position. For example, if you bought a house together but it was put into your partner's sole name (perhaps because you didn't have credit to get a mortgage), the law says that the property belongs to your partner. You will have to prove that the intention was that you own a share.

If your partner dies . . .
  • If they haven't made a Will, you won’t inherit anything from them, including the family home if it's in their name (either solely or as tenants in common).
  • You will not get any state bereavement benefit or a state pension based on a percentage of your ex's national insurance contributions.
  • If they have made a will and you inherit more than £325,000, you will have to pay inheritance tax.

You have a few options to consider and I can help you with all of them!

If you're renting a new place together, think about putting both names on the tenancy. If you're buying a property together, or moving into a home already owned by your partner, think about how you want to own it. You have three options: in one person’s name, as 'joint tenants', or as ‘tenants in common’. Your rights change with each option. Get advice from a solicitor about the right option for your circumstances.

Make a will – even if you don't currently have much to leave. Without one, your partner will not inherit anything – it will all go to your blood relatives and, if you have none, to the government.

Make a Living Together Agreement. It records what you will each contribute and if you split up, it can help keep it fair and amicable.

If you're an unmarried father, a step parent or same sex parent, make sure you have parental responsibility for your children.

Check your pension scheme - some don’t pay benefits to unmarried partners.

How can I help?

* indicates entry required