Cohabiting couples do have some legal protection due to recent changes in the law; however, they experience nowhere near the kind of protection associated with married couples or civil partnerships.
It is therefore extremely important that if you are a cohabiting couple you are aware of exactly where you stand legally.
This may come as a surprise to many people, and indeed it is a common misconception that people enter into some kind of ‘common-law’ marriage whereby they acquire similar rights by cohabiting.
For most cases this is incorrect, and it is important that someone in this situation contacts a family solicitor to get appropriate legal advice.
What rights do cohabitees lack?
An important example of the lack of rights cohabiting couples have is the fact that if one partner has no financial stake in a property, they will have no right to it whatsoever should they break up, regardless of how long they have lived there.
This would not be the case if the couple were married or had entered into a civil partnership through which rights will be acquired.
It is also the case that if one partner dies and doesn’t leave a will, the other partner is more than likely to inherit nothing if they have merely been cohabiting. This is because under the intestacy rules (the rules that apply when no will is left) there is no provision for any non-family members that are not a spouse.
This could lead to the unfortunate situation in which a cohabiting partner dies, their house passes to a family member and the surviving partner is forced to move home at a time of great suffering.
Generally, therefore, couples that are merely cohabiting do not have legal protection and rights from the other. They are treated as two separate individuals and are only entitled to what they each brought to the relationship when it ends. It is plain to see why it may be important to try to gain some legal protection by receiving legal advice from a family solicitor.
Cohabiting couples with children
However, this position is slightly altered when children are involved. The parties are still legally represented as separate individuals, but as the law recognises the parental responsibilities each party owes to a child, there will be far more legal ties and obligations in place.
An example of this is child maintenance payments or even a claim to reside in a property. Again, it is important to contact a solicitor and the Child Support Agency if you have a query regarding maintenance rights.
If an individual is cohabiting and worried that they will have no financial protection should the relationship fail they should contact a family solicitor at the earliest opportunity.
Whilst it may not be something that many people want to talk about, making provisions for the other partner leaving, dying or falling ill can be an extremely prudent move. With more and more people choosing to cohabit rather than enter into marriage, the problems of a lack of rights and protection for cohabiting couples are only likely to grow.