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Friday, 23 September 2016 07:41

The Myth of the ‘Common Law Spouse’ - Are you cohabiting? Know your rights!

Are you living with your partner? Are you married? In recent years there has been a significant increase in cohabitation, that is living together as a married couple without having married or formed a civil partnership. In fact, The Office of National Statistics recently published that they have found that approximately 10% of adults are not married but living with a partner in England and Wales. Between 2004 to 2015, cohabiting couple families have been the fastest growing family type in Britain.

Although society has changed its attitude towards marriage and cohabitation, the law surrounding the breakdown of cohabiting relationships has failed to reflect this progression.

“But we have been together 20 years, I am a common law spouse so I must be entitled to something?” This is a question we hear a lot and to clarify there is no such thing as a common law spouse.  If you are not married and your relationship ends, separating cohabiting couples are not eligible to the same rights and entitlements as divorcing couples notwithstanding how long you have lived together. This can often lead to one partner of the cohabiting couple which splits in financial difficulties.

Divorcing couples, or civil partners whose relationships ends, will have a right to a share of the assets including pensions and savings gained throughout the marriage or partnership. This division of the assets determined by the legal system is not available to cohabiting couples.

There are some court applications available but these are not as straightforward as an application on divorce. If you jointly own the property that you live in your interest will be protected. If the property is in one parties name only the other may have a claim against the property which is dependent on a number of factors, if you have children together there may be claims that could be made under the Children Act and it is important you get legal advice on these complex areas of the law.

Perhaps you are engaged? Until you are legally married you are simply seen as cohabitees, and in law you are treated the same as an unmarried couple living together.

Its not all doom and gloom though, it may seem unromantic, but did you know Cohabitation Agreements are available?

Cohabitation Agreements put into writing who owns what and how everything is owned and can offer protection and security to both parties in the relationship.

A Cohabitation Agreement can set out living arrangements for both of you, for example, how much each of you will contribute towards the various bills, including the rent or mortgage, of the household.

Importantly, if things turn sour in your relationship you can also set out how everything is to be divided, such as your Property, belongings and monies in the bank. If you have children, you can provide for how you will support your children should the relationship end.


Provide clarity for you and your partner from the beginning of your cohabitation by preparing a Cohabitation Agreement with us or get advice on the breakdown of a cohabiting relationship. All you need to do is contact us to book an appointment with our Family Solicitor, Sophie Mitchell, at either our Watton (01953 883535) or Hethersett Office (01603 813920).

Contact us

We are based in Hethersett, Norwich, Norfolk. However we are more than happy to conduct home visits if getting to us is a problem

41 Great Melton Road
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01603 327280

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