What are your rights when cohabiting?

If you are cohabiting with a partner, you will need to ensure your position is protected.  If the relationship breaks down, you may not have the rights you expect. 

Beverley Jones, Associate in the Family team, answers the most frequently asked questions about cohabitation.

Q: Is there such a thing as a common law wife?

A: No.  This is a myth.  In order to protect yourself going forward, consider entering into a cohabitation agreement.  You will also need to be careful in the way in which you hold property with your partner. 

Q: I live in my partner’s house and pay towards the bills and food.  Does this mean I am entitled to an interest in the property? 

A: No.  If you are not a legal owner then the onus is on you to establish a beneficial interest.  This cannot be done simply by paying for food and bills.

Q: I contributed towards the purchase price of my partner’s property but it is in his/her sole name.  Am I entitled to recover any money?

A:  You will need to establish a beneficial interest in the property.  Discussions and agreements that you had with your partner will be of vital importance in doing so. A capital contribution is likely to be sufficient to establish a beneficial interest. An application to the court under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act can be made if agreement cannot be reached. 

Q:  Does it make any difference if we are engaged to be married?

A:  Yes.  Although unmarried couples who have not been engaged have to rely upon the rules of equity to establish property rights, engaged couple’s rights can determine their property rights under the Married Woman’s Property Act 1882 and subsequent legislation. Further s37 of the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act 1970 applies to engaged couples meaning that if you have made substantial contribution to the property and/or improvements you will be treated as having obtained an interest in the property.

Q:  The house is in joint names but my ex-partner is refusing to allow me to sell it.  What are the options? 

A:  If your ex-partner refuses to sell then it is possible to apply to the court for an order for sale which can include a claim for costs against your partner.  

Q: Can I apply for maintenance against my ex-partner and/or pension share?

A: You can only apply for spousal maintenance and a pension sharing order if you are married.

Q: What if I have children with my ex-partner?

A: You will be entitled to child maintenance and can in certain circumstances apply under Schedule 1 of the Children Act for settlement of property and/or lump sum to meet the child’s needs.

If you have any queries relating to the above, or another aspect of family law, please do not hesitate to contact Beverley Jones

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.