Living Together Vs Married, why should it Matter?

A recent article on the BBC News website has put the spotlight on Co-Habiting couples again and what they believe their rights are upon separation Vs what their actual rights are. Resolution carried out a survey which found two-thirds of cohabiting couples wrongly believe “common-law marriage” laws exist when dividing up finances. The number of unmarried couples living together has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017.

Siobhan Rooney, Partner and Head of Family and Wills, Trusts and Probate at award winning, leading and regional law firm Pictons Solicitors says “Many unmarried couples mistakenly believe that they have an interest in their partner’s assets upon separation, especially if they have contributed towards the costs of that asset. Common examples include a person who contributes towards the cost of a mortgage on a property held by their partner, or a person who helps purchase a car. As the law stands, if an asset is in your partner’s name, you have no automatic right to a share of that asset, even if you have made financial contributions towards it. This can of course produce very unfair results and can see one person at the end of a relationship in a very bad financial position.”

“We can help people ensure that their contributions towards an asset are protected in the result of a breakdown in their relationship.  It is best that people seek this advice at the point of making such contribution or upon agreeing to make a regular contribution.  We can then ensure the relevant agreements or ‘declarations’ are put in place to avoid unfairness taking place at the breakdown of a relationship. The Citizens Advice Bureau highlighted some important points that couples need to know as a standard.”

Cohabiting vs. Marriage: Six ways your rights differ

  1. If one cohabiting partner dies without leaving a will, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything – unless the couple jointly own property. A married partner would inherit all or some of the estate
  2. An unmarried partner who stays at home to care for children cannot make any claims in their own right against their partner for property, maintenance or pension-sharing
  3. Cohabiting partners cannot access their partner’s bank account if they die – whereas married couples may be allowed to withdraw the balance providing the amount is small
  4. An unmarried couple can separate without going to court, but married couples need to go to a court and get divorced to end the marriage formally
  5. Cohabiting couples are not legally obliged to support each other financially, but married partners have a legal duty to support each other
  6. If you are the unmarried partner of a tenant, you have no rights to stay in the accommodation if you are asked to leave – but each married partner has the right to live in the “matrimonial home”

Siobhan continues, “I would urge all couples who intend to cohabit or make a financial commitment to each other to take legal advice. The Law has not caught up with the modern way of life and still distinguishes between married and unmarried couples. Whilst the Government has made many threats to update the law, until this happens cohabiting couples must take extra care to ensure that they are not caught unawares in the event of a separation which can leave people trapped in a relationship they do not want to be in.”

Our lawyers at Pictons can help you consider your legal position and provide solutions on separation, we offer Fixed Fee appointments for £110 plus VAT for an hour. If you would like to speak to Siobhan or one of the family team at any of our 3 offices in Luton, Milton Keynes and Tring please contact them on 0800 302 9448 or email