Latest insights from our experts

Posted 5 July 2017
by Aimee Aspinall

Unmarried Couples and the Common Law Myth



Cohabiting couples often assume that living together creates similar rights and responsibilities as marriage. This is often known as a “common law marriage”.  The concept of a common law marriage has no legal validity and in reality moving in with a partner does not give an individual automatic rights to each other’s property, no matter how long a couple has lived together.

If the property in which a couple lives is rented, then only the tenant(s) named in the tenancy agreement have the right to live there and has responsibility for paying the rent.

Similarly, if the property in which a couple lives is owned by one party then the owner is the only one entitled to live there and anyone else can be asked to leave. The owner can also make decisions such as selling the property without consulting their partner

Even if the property is only owned by one party the other may have some rights in certain circumstances, and it is up to the non-owner to evidence this.

Owning a property in joint names can help protect the rights of both partners and there are two forms of ownership:

  • Joint tenants: it is presumed the partners intend to own the property in equal shares. In this scenario, if one partner dies then the property passes to the other automatically.
  • Tenants in common: this can be with the partners owning equal shares or unequal shares, for instance if one partner paid more towards the purchase price. If this is the case then the agreement as to ownership will be contained in a Declaration of Trust. If one partner dies then the property passes in accordance with their will or intestacy rules. Cohabiting partners have no automatic right to inherit if their partner dies, although they may be a beneficiary under the other’s will. There is no inheritance tax exemption for unmarried couples.

Cohabiting couples have no legal duty to support each other financially and neither is there any automatic share of ownership of possessions, savings, investments or debts.

Whatever a couple’s circumstances, a written Cohabitation Agreement detailing what contributions each will make and what share of the home each will be entitled to will minimise the risk of future disputes. A Cohabitation Agreement can also include other details to avoid future disputes, for example by setting out how much each partner will pay into a joint account and how ownership of items bought using that money will be shared.

We offer a free initial assessment meeting where you will have the opportunity to meet with a member of our specialist family law team to discuss your queries. To book a free meeting please call 01392 207020 or email family@tozers.co.uk.

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About the author

Aimee Aspinall

Associate of CILEx

Associate of CILEx in the Exeter family team