Rights of cohabitation in the UK

Written by paul cartmell | 13/05/2017
Rights of cohabitation in the UK
Many couples now choose to live together without getting married. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

In the UK couples choosing to live together without getting married or joining together in a civil partnership have limited rights in the eyes of the law. Cohabitation is a term often used without a specific legal definition used in Britain, referring to a couple who live together for an unspecified amount of time.


Couples of the same or opposite sex who choose not to enter into a legal partnership can be said to be cohabiting. Couples choosing to live together are entitled to enter into a cohabitation agreement, which states the rights and certain responsibilities of each partner in the relationship; a cohabitation agreement is not legally binding, but can be used to state how assets and belongings will be shared should the relationship come to an end. The British Government has so far failed to act upon recommendations from legal and research groups calling for cohabitation rights to be established for couples living together, according to the UK Parliament.


The legal rights of unmarried couples in terms of financial obligations are limited when the couple live together with no legal status. In general, each partner in a cohabiting couple is responsible for their own financial situation; as far as banking is concerned if one partner in the cohabiting couple dies the surviving partner has no legal right to any monies left by their partner unless specified in a will, the Citizens' Advice Bureau reports. If a joint account is established between both partners the surviving partner does have the right to money in the bank account at all times. When considering cohabiting each partner is responsible for their own debts, unless they are held in the name of both partners in the couple.


Under UK law the mother of all children is initially awarded custody and all rights to children unless the father is specified as such on legal documents or registered by a court. The Citizens' Advice Bureau explains under British legal rules the father of a child is deemed to be the husband in a married couple; in a cohabiting couple the father has no legal rights unless registered on a birth certificate or the couple create a legal agreement and register it with a British court.


Because cohabiting couples are not recognised legally under UK law they have the right to separate at any time and divide up any jointly owned property without any legal rulings. Throughout a cohabitation and in the event of the relationship breaking down each partner remains the right to property held in their name; unless a will or legal agreement is in place this means a partner in an unmarried couple has no right to any of their partners property should the other partner die, the Citizens Advice Bureau reports.

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