Cohabitation Confusion: Legal Rights of cohabiting couples
The number of unmarried couples living together has grown from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017, and this trend looks set to continue with unmarried couples being the fastest growing family type in the UK.
But experts are warning that millions of people are at risk of losing out if their relationship breaks down or if their partner dies, as unmarried couples still have significantly fewer rights than those who are married.
Although the idea of a ‘common-law wife’ is, to use a word, common itself, this has no legal recognition. You could live with your partner for fifty years, pay the mortgage on your house and even raise children together, but without a legal agreement you could find yourself left with nothing if the relationship broke down or your partner died.
With almost half of 18-34 year olds thinking that cohabiting couples have the same legal rights as their married counterparts, there is a huge effort not only to raise awareness, but also to change the law. We’re at the end of Cohabitation Awareness week, organised by the family lawyer’s group, Resolution, which has spurred a nationwide discussion about the potential pitfalls of cohabitation.
If you have children with your partner you would expect to have Parental Responsibility for them, that is you would have a say in important decisions about your child’s life such as their religion, education, name and money. If you’re an unmarried father or an unmarried female partner, however, you don’t have automatic parental responsibility and could find that the law goes against you if the relationship breaks down in the future.
Perhaps less obviously, if your partner dies without making a Will (if they die ‘intestate’) or if they have an old, out of date Will, you could be looking at years of legal disputes and bills to get the same support as you would have if you were married. Intestacy rules simply do not provide for cohabiting partners, and any claim you could make for financial support would limited to a claim for maintenance. In comparison, spouses can expect a much more generous pay-out.
There are even cases where people have to sue their own children so that they can pay the mortgage of the home which they shared with their partner when the money they expected to inherit after years of living with their partner passes them by.
Although there are growing calls to change the law to reflect the growing number of people living together without a marriage ceremony, this is in the very early stages. In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns about cohabitation, get in touch with the team at Bridge Law. If you want to make a Will or draw up a Cohabitation Agreement, we are on hand to offer advice and help you make sure you are protected. Call us on 0161 427 0084 today.