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Living together

Many couples choose to live together instead of committing to marriage. However English law treats unmarried couples very differently to married couples.

You should be aware of the potential consequences if you and your partner separate. There is a long-established myth that a man and woman living together acquire a special legal status of ‘common law’ husband and wife. This status does not exist and it is usually only on the breakdown of a relationship that unmarried couples become aware of the limited legal rights they have.

Cohabiting couples are treated as unrelated individuals. They have no rights in relation to each other’s assets except in limited circumstances.


Most disputes we encounter relate to property. In a divorce situation, the Courts have discretion to ensure fairness is achieved, taking all the circumstances of the case into account. With a cohabitation break-up, the strict laws of property and trusts apply. This is a complex area of law and you should seek early advice from one of our family lawyers if you are thinking of separating and have property assets.


Where a couple has children, there is an ongoing obligation for children to be supported financially. If you are the main carer, you are able to claim child maintenance regardless of whether you are married. In some circumstances, it is possible for a parent to apply to the Court for a lump sum payment or for permission to continue to live in the family home with the children, until they are grown up.

Protecting your position

It is possible to enter into a cohabitation agreement (also known as a cohabitation contract, cohabitation deed and living together agreement). Matters such as financial arrangements, ownership of property and child arrangements can be included in the deed. Such an agreement can avoid costly potential litigation on the breakdown of a relationship.

The following recent AWB Charlesworth blog may be of interest: