Your rights when living together

If you are living with someone without being married you might think you have similar rights to married couples if the relationship breaks down or one of you dies. You would be wrong. There is no such thing as a common law marriage and cohabitants have very few rights that arise out of the relationship. You can’t, for example, claim maintenance from your partner (other than child maintenance if applicable) even if you have lived together for many years.

This page outlines some of the rights you need to be aware of when planning to live with someone. You can always contact a Resolution member for advice on your individual situation. 

If you live in a property in your partner’s name

You don’t have an automatic right to any share in the property. The law says that the property belongs to the person in whose name it is registered.

In a nutshell this means that you don’t have any say in whether or not the property is sold and, if you split up, you would not be entitled to any money from the property, nor would you be entitled to stay in the property (unless you have children, see below).

To have a claim to any part of the property, even if you contributed financially, you would have to show that you both agreed that you should have some rights to it (known legally as a common intention).  This is a complicated area of law and may often involve going to court, which can be costly. You are strongly advised to seek legal advice if you are in this position.

The strength of your case will depend on what evidence you have. But it can be very difficult, costly and time consuming to establish such a right.

If you live in a property that is held in joint names with your partner

Unless it is clear from an agreement or in the title documents of the property, if a property is in joint names the law assumes you have equal shares. 

If you and your partner have children together

The father will only automatically have parental responsibility if he registered as the father on the birth certificate after 1 December 2003. Otherwise he needs the formal written agreement of the mother or an order from the court

If one of you wishes to move to a different country with the children, consent of the other parent (assuming they have parental responsibility) or permission of the court will first be required. 

You may have financial claims on behalf of your children. You and the children might be able to stay in the house whilst they are dependent, regardless of who owns the property. If there are sufficient capital resources available, the court can make orders for one parent to provide a home for the other whilst the children are growing up. The standard terms of this sort of arrangement will be that once the children have ceased to be dependent (usually once they have finished full-time education, which can include university), the capital is returned to the parent who provided it. Other lump sum payments can be awarded for specific capital needs (such as furnishing a home or buying a car). 

If your partner dies and has not made a will

You are not entitled to any part of their estate unless you jointly and equally own the property, in which case it would pass to you automatically. Otherwise your partner’s estate will go to their next of kin. This could be a spouse if they have never divorced. If your partner has children, their spouse would get the first £250,000, personal possessions and income from half the rest. The remaining half would go to their children who would then get the other half when the spouse dies. If your partner is divorced or has never been married, all their property would then go to their children or other relatives if there are no children, meaning you could lose your home.

If you own your property as “beneficial tenants in common” your partner’s share will go to his next of kin as above. You might have to sell the property to pay them their share or raise money to buy them out.

If you are left with nothing you would have to make a claim against your partner’s estate on the basis that you lived together for two years prior to the date of death or that you were wholly or partly dependent on them. This can be difficult, costly and time consuming.

This is why it’s really important to make a will.