What is Cohabitation?

What is Cohabitation

Cohabitation is the legal term for sharing a residence and aspects of your life with someone you are not married to. Naturally, it differs from living with your flatmates because couples who cohabit are only that—a couple usually in a romantic or sexual relationship who live together. Sometimes couples could be cohabiting even though they may have their own properties depending on how much time they spend at each other’s properties and or time with each other. 

Although cohabitation is becoming more popular in the UK since it allows for a little bit more flexibility than marriage, it can occasionally cause issues down the road. Additionally, it calls into question both your legal rights as an individual and as a couple.

As a result, cohabiting partners have limited rights under family law and divorce law upon separation or the death of a partner. There is no such thing as a common law wife or husband, and it does not matter how long you have lived together or been in the relationship these factors will not assist you in relying on family and divorce laws. Divorce and family law looks at the needs of the parties, fairness and many other factors.

The Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA) can be used to settle disagreements between cohabiting couples who cannot agree on how to share their property upon the breakdown of their relationship. This uses property and trust law and not family law. These rely on what the legal title states, whether any trusts have been created and the terms of those trusts and the intentions of the parties and whether there has been any change to those. It can produce some very unfair results.  If there are children then the Children Act 1989 (which is family law) may also be used either on its own or in conjunction with a TOLATA claim. The claims under the Children Act 1989 are however much more restricted than the divorce laws.

Knowing Your Rights: The Cohabitation Agreement

It’s critical to establish your financial status as soon as possible if you and your partner are cohabiting or thinking of cohabiting. This is accomplished by creating a cohabitation agreement (sometimes known as a living together agreement). You may also need to consider declarations of Trust, which can be registered with the title to the property at the Land Registry.

In the event of a breakup with your spouse, a cohabitation agreement—a legal document prepared by a solicitor—describes what will happen to your joint assets, such as property. This can reduce stress, anxiety, time, costs and make moving forward on a breakdown of relationship easier for all. You both must make some disclosure of your financial circumstances at the time of entering into the agreement, you will also both need to have the opportunity to take legal advice before signing the same. 

This agreement can also protect your pre-owned assets, for instance, if your parents helped you pay for your home or if you have possessions from a previous relationship that you want to pass on to your children. 

Of course, no one can anticipate the future. However, if you are considering cohabitation, it is essential to plan ahead. Making sure you’ve answered all of your “what if” questions would then undoubtedly start putting your mind at ease in the long run.

A cohabitation agreement can be used as evidence in court if a dispute arises in the future between you and your present partner. There are other steps that can be taken to ensure the agreement is followed.

Your Real Estate Property

Jointly Renting a Home

You are both equally liable for the rent and any other tenancy requirements when both of your names are on the tenancy agreement.

You will need to speak with your landlord or leasing agency to modify the tenancy agreement if you split up and one of you wants to leave the flat.

Purchasing a home together

You might be tenants in common, where each of you owns a portion of the property (this can be equal shares or unequal shares), or joint tenants, where you both own the entire property together. 

If you decide to end your relationship, having a cohabitation agreement in place can make things simpler. What happens to the property must be decided upon jointly. How you own the property can make a difference to what would happen upon the relationship failing. Ensure you understand this when deciding to purchase a property jointly.

If you split up as tenants in common ownership, each of you would be entitled to a portion of the property.

If the property is owned by a single person

Unless you can show that you contributed to the down payment on the property or the mortgage payments, and you made a financial commitment to paying for significant improvements to the property, you will likely not have any rights to the property if you do not own it or a piece of it. Even if you have made these contributions, it can be difficult to secure a beneficial legal interest in the same, as you will also need to show that there was an intention to acquire an interest and that you have acted upon that intention. A cohabitation agreement can really assist with this, especially if it has also been regularly reviewed and updated during the relationship.

This implies that you are not entitled to stay in the house after you and your partner break up. You won’t automatically inherit the property if your partner passes away unless it’s specifically mentioned in their will.

You can convert a property into a shared tenancy if you both agree that you should own a portion of it. A family solicitor in Ipswich can help you in this.

Financial support

On Separation, cohabiting couples do not currently have a legal liability to provide financial support to the other person.  In addition, on separation cohabiting couples do not currently need to share their pensions, savings and capital assets. This makes it even more important to ensure that any entitlement to property is dealt with appropriately, any investments made safeguarded.

Updating cohabitation agreements

It is important to update cohabitation agreements as your relationship develops, significant changes are made, moving property, having children, redundancies or ill health changes of employment or responsibility for payments connected to the house. Engagement and marriage can affect your beneficial and legal interests in property and other assets, so any cohabitation agreement should then be converted to prenuptial agreement and a post-marital agreement after marriage if the purpose is to preserve certain assets. 

Children Rights

Only if their names are listed on the child’s birth certificate does the father have parental responsibility. Parental responsibility involvement entails having a say in decisions affecting the child.

Even if his name is on the birth certificate, the father will not always have parental responsibility for babies registered before December 1, 2003.

Child Maintenance and financial support of children

Both parents will remain liable to support their children financially. This will also be the case even if the father of the child does not have parental responsibility for the child. On separation there will be a liability for the parent that the children do not live with to pay child maintenance. If agreement can be reached, this can be done by voluntary child maintenance agreements and payments. If there is a dispute then applications can be made to the child Maintenace service for an assessment and, if necessary, enforcement of child maintenance payments. 

A child or children from a previous relationship

You do not instantly become their parent if your partner has a child or children from another relationship. In some situations, you can obtain parental responsibility for your partner’s child or children.


Unless you and your partner establish a legal agreement, the other party won’t be treated as the next of kin in the event of a death. This implies that the living party cannot make arrangements.

Financial accounts after death

If you and your partner have separate bank accounts and one of you passes away, the other person will not be able to access the account legally.

In terms of the pension, upon death, the state pension is not immediately given to the surviving partner.

Cohabitation Disputes

Whether you have a cohabitation agreement, it’s still possible that you and your companion will eventually have problems. If you find yourself in this scenario, our team of family lawyers in Ipswich are here to help.

If you need further help with cohabitation agreements from experienced and trustworthy family lawyers in Ipswich, contact us today at 01206 299 282 or email us your query at vanessa@gillbanksfamilylaw.com