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Unmarried Couples: Do We Have Cohabiting Rights?

Cohabiting Rights

Many couples are now choosing to live together before marriage. Others may have no plans to marry in the future. A couple living together are called ‘cohabitants’; but this name does not bring with it any legal protections.

Many cohabiting couples are under the mistaken impression that their legal rights are enshrined under ‘common marriage law’. However, there is no such thing in English and Welsh law.

This means that in the event of a separation, either party could find themselves left with very little. Unmarried couples living together cannot access all of the same legal protections as a married couple, no matter how long they have been together.

So, what are your cohabiting rights, and is there any way to secure greater legal security outside of marriage?

Property and Parental Rights

In the event of a separation, most unmarried couples cannot claim ownership of one another’s property. This applies equally to large investments like houses, and small items such as furnishings. Even gifts are the sole property of the recipient.

If a property belongs to one partner, but another has contributed to it, both partners may in some circumstances be able to make a claim to it on the basis that a trust was formed. This is a difficult legal area that often involves the courts in an attempt to prove that one party has financially contributed to the other’s property and what the effect of that contribution is.

On the side of parental rights, unmarried mothers automatically claim parental responsibility of their children. An unmarried father who is named on the birth certificate has parental responsibility. This kind of agreement provides extra security for children in the event of a separation, or the unexpected death of a partner. If a father is not named on the birth certificate he can still apply to the court for parental responsibility.

In the event that one partner in an unmarried couple dies without leaving a will, the other partner has no immediate right of inheritance. However, the Inheritance Act 1975 provides one avenue for an unmarried partner to claim from the deceased’s estate. The time limits for these claims to be made can be very short.

It is clear that the law surrounding cohabiting couples offers less security than many people might expect. But there is one way to gain a sure legal footing.

Understand Your Cohabiting Rights with Norton Peskett

One way a couple living together but not married can secure their rights is with a cohabitation agreement. This agreement allows a couple to set out their property rights, separation rights, and payment of debts or receipt of benefits. Whilst a cohabitation agreement isn’t necessary, it provides an assuring amount of legal security.

Cohabiting rights are a complex subject. If you need help understanding your rights in the wake of a separation or death, or wish to set up a cohabitation agreement, get in touch with Norton Peskett today. Our straightforward advise can help cohabiting couples make sense of complicated law.

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