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What Legal Rights do Unmarried Couples Have?

Added by Berlad Graham
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May 7, 2024

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Almost a quarter of people who live together aren’t married or in a civil partnership, according to data from the 2021 Census. 

Figures show that the proportion of people living as a cohabiting couple stood at 24.3%, up from 20.6% from 2011, an increase across all age groups under 85 years.  

However, despite cohabitation becoming a popular choice for couples in England and Wales, unmarried couples who choose to live together are not afforded the same legal rights as those who marry or become civil partners. 

In this blog, our experienced Family solicitors consider what legal rights cohabiting couples have and explain what they can do to protect themselves.   

Do cohabiting couples have the same legal rights as married people? 

No. Unmarried cohabiting couples do not have the same rights or protections under the law as those that are married or in a civil partnership.  

This is the case regardless of how long you have been together and remains the case even if you have children together. 

Living together without being married or in a civil partnership means that if the relationship breaks down, or one of you dies, you do not have the same legal rights regarding finances, children, and property. 

If a cohabiting couple splits up, who gets the children, the house and other assets? 

The legal position for unmarried couples who split up is not clear.  

Couples who have been living together without being married or civil partners have no financial responsibility to each other if they decide to separate, unless there are children involved. 

Similarly, cohabiting couples have no rights to each other’s property or other assets owned individually if they decide to go their separate ways. 

The situation can quickly become complicated, and conversations about financial arrangements and who is entitled to what can be difficult to resolve. 

If you are experiencing difficulties with a cohabiting partner and want to know where you stand legally should the relationship break down, specialist advice from an experienced family solicitor is vital. 

A family lawyer will talk to you about your circumstances and advise on the appropriate next steps. 

At Berlad Graham, we have extensive experience assisting unmarried couples with their legal matters.  

We can ensure you are protected while you are together, by drafting cohabitation agreements and Wills, and advising you on the best way to structure property ownership to mitigate tax.  

If the relationship ends, our team will guide you through what you should do next and ensure any agreement you reach with an ex-partner is in your best interests. 

To speak to our friendly, experienced, professional cohabitation lawyers in Uxbridge and Shropshire today, please call 0330 175 5655 or email info@bglaw.co.uk. 

How can an unmarried couple protect themselves? 

There are several steps cohabiting couples can take to protect themselves legally. These include: 

1. Cohabitation agreement. 

A cohabitation agreement is a legal document made between a couple that is living together. It sets out: 

  • Who owns what, and in what proportion (such as property, both that owned before the relationship and property bought together). 
  • What a couple’s financial responsibilities towards each other will be (for example, who will pay the mortgage and any household bills). 
  • How jointly owned assets will be divided should the relationship break down (including property, cars, and bank accounts). 

Cohabitation agreements are tailored to an individual’s needs and can include a broad set of arrangements.  

They are enforceable by the courts, provided they are drafted and executed correctly, and we would always encourage anyone considering a cohabitation agreement to seek legal advice. 

2. Wills.

A Will is a must for every adult to ensure their wishes are carried out and their loved ones are provided for, but is especially important for unmarried couples. 

If you do not make a Will, your estate is divided according to the laws of intestacy. According to these rules, if your partner dies without a Will and you are not married, you have no right to inherit, even if you are cohabiting and have children together. 

Making a Will is the only way of ensuring your partner is provided for after your death. 

3. Lasting Powers of Attorney. 

Another legal document that everyone should have is a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). An LPA allows you to appoint someone (an ‘attorney’) to make certain decisions for you if you have an accident or suffer from an illness that means you are not able to do so yourself. 

There are two main types of LPA: 

  • Property and financial affairs. This gives an attorney the power to make decisions involving your property and finances, including paying household bills, selling your home, or managing a bank account. 
  • Health and welfare. This LPA enables an attorney to make decisions about your health and welfare, such as your medical care. 

Naming your partner as your attorney means they will be able to handle your affairs on your behalf if you lack the mental capacity to do so yourself.  

Cohabitation Agreement Solicitors Uxbridge 

Our specialist family lawyers at Berlad Graham have helped many unmarried couples with their legal needs. 

Our professional team of family solicitors has extensive experience drafting cohabitation agreements to ensure they are legally binding and guarantee you the highest level of protection possible. 

We can also help draft your Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney to ensure they are tailored to your needs and protect your loved ones. 

If you are thinking of moving in with your partner, or you are a couple that has recently moved in together and wants to shore up your relationship legally, please contact our team. 

Cohabitation agreements can also be made between people who are not in a romantic relationship, such as flatmates or siblings, and can help divide up bills and other responsibilities while you are living together. 

For more information about how we can help, call Berlad Graham on 0330 175 5655 or email info@bglaw.co.uk.