There are more than 3.6 million cohabiting couples in the UK living together without formal marriage. Although societal norms have evolved, the legal framework for families in this situation has yet to keep up.
Resolution is a community of family justice professionals who support resolving family issues in a constructive way. Their annual Awareness Week, running from 27 November to 1 December, is an opportunity to look at cohabitation reform and their campaign to recognise its status in law.
With this in mind, we take a closer look at the legal implications associated with cohabitation and the importance of awareness in navigating these complexities. Legal Status of Cohabitation in England & Wales: As things presently stand, cohabiting couples are not granted the same legal recognition as married couples. Despite common misconceptions, there is no concept of “common-law marriage” and cohabitants do not automatically acquire the same rights or protections. This gives way to a range of concerns from property rights to financial responsibilities and child arrangements issues.
In the absence of a legal framework, there is no automatic entitlement to a share of a partner’s property if the relationship ends. If one party wishes to pursue a claim against the other’s property, they have to largely rely upon a series of case law.
To address this, cohabitants should therefore consider entering into legally binding agreement, such as a declaration of trust and/or a cohabitation agreement, from the outset which outlines the ownership and division of assets to avoid a dispute should the relationship end.
Money can be a difficult topic in any relationship regardless of whether a couple is married or not. Financial contributions in a cohabiting relationship can vary widely, and without a formal agreement, these may not be legally protected. Open communication in an effort to understand the financial responsibilities of your partner can go a long way to avoid potential disputes in the future. Again, it is sensible to enter into a cohabitation agreement to give clarity as to where everyone stands.
Children and Parental Rights:
Cohabiting couples with children should be aware of their parental rights and responsibilities. While the mother automatically acquires parental responsibility, the father may need to acquire it through an agreement or court order if this was not addressed when the child’s birth certificate was issued. As cohabitation becomes increasingly common for couples in the UK, understanding the legal landscape is paramount. Our expert solicitors here at Lamb Brooks have helped many cohabiting couples navigate the complexities around this type of relationship and we endeavour to create awareness around the topic so that people can make informed choices.
If you would like to speak to a solicitor about your rights in cohabitation, call Rob Parker or a member of his team on 012 5684 4888.