Unmarried, Cohabiting Couples and their Property Rights

In the 21st century, marriage is not everyone’s first choice: in the UK there are over three million unmarried cohabiting couple families.

Families which are classed as ‘cohabiting couples’ are the second largest family type in the UK, with the amount of people choosing to live this way steadily rising each year.

Living together as an unmarried couple is sometimes referred to as being in a ‘common law marriage’. Although this has the word ‘marriage’ in it, you don’t have the same rights as a couple who are legally married when it comes to the property you live in together.

Of course, there are many benefits for being married and unmarried cohabiting couples respectively, but it’s important to be aware of your property rights if you do choose to remain unmarried.

We can help you with tailored advice on your cohabitation and property rights.
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Cohabitation Property Rights

Cohabiting Laws and Legal Property Rights for Unmarried Couples

Cohabitation laws and legal rights for unmarried couples differ than those for married couples, which is something not everyone is aware of.

It can often be unclear what the property rights for unmarried, cohabiting couples are, with many people assuming that their rights are the same as a married couple’s.

Our family law solicitors are able to help draw up cohabitation agreements which can help to establish an unmarried couple’s individual duties and rights for living together.

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Cohabitation and Property Rights in Rented Accommodation

The cohabitation property rights for unmarried couples differ depending on whether the couple lives in rented housing or whether they own a property together.

Whereas in a marriage both people have a right to live in the matrimonial home, as a cohabiting couple in rented accommodation this is not always the case.

If you are living with your partner in rented accommodation and are not written into the tenancy agreement, you have no rights to stay in the property should you be asked to leave.

Joint Tenancies: Cohabitation Rights

Cohabiting couples will have equal property rights if they are both included in a joint tenancy agreement. This means that both parties have an equal right to stay in the property if the relationship breaks down.

It also is possible for a court to transfer the tenancy, for example if you wish to hand over your half of a joint tenancy to your partner in the event of a breakup.

You would have to seek the advice of a family law solicitor who would be able to help arrange this. In any case, the landlord has to agree to any changes in the tenancy agreement.

Are you renting with your partner without any agreements in place for when something goes wrong?
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Owner-Occupiers

If you are living together with your partner in a home that you and/or your partner own, your legal rights are different than they would be if you were living in rented housing.

Like with joint tenancies in rented accommodation, if the house is owned by you both jointly you both have equal rights to remain in the property on the event of a break-up.

Cohabiting Partner Can Claim ‘Beneficial Interest’

If you are the sole owner you alone have the right to stay. However, it is important to understand that your partner may be able to claim a ‘beneficial interest’ in it.

The ‘beneficial interest’ is an interest in the economic benefit of a property.

‘Beneficial interest’ would give a cohabiting partner who doesn’t own the property the right to:

  • Live in the property
  • A share of the income if the property is rented out
  • A share of the profit of the sale if the property is sold

If the cohabiting partner can provide proof of financial contributions towards the home they may be eligible to make a ‘beneficial interest’ claim.

If the court finds that you – or your partner, if you own the property – do not have a ‘beneficial interest’ in the home, the person applying for this claim will have no rights to stay.

Are you living in a bought home with your partner without any agreements in place for when something goes wrong?
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Cohabiting Couples Rights to Stay in a Property

Cohabitation and property rights for unmarried couples vary from case to case.

In many cases where children are involved a court would be more likely to grant you the right to stay in the home if you are the primary caregiver, at least temporarily.

As a joint owner or joint tenant, there should be no dispute over your rights to remain in the property.

However, if there is, it is best to seek legal advice as soon as possible in order to prevent distress on your part.

Similarly, if your partner jointly owns or rents with you, you would be breaking the law by refusing to let them remain in the property unless a criminal issue has arisen.

Short-Term Cohabitation Rights

It is possible, as an unmarried partner, to get short-term rights to remain in a property in the event of a breakup.

However, you would have to formally apply to do so through a court proceeding.

If you need to stay in your home for a specific reason and you are not the tenant or owner, you must consult an experienced family law solicitor to help you understand your rights.

Cohabitation Agreements and Property

For unmarried couples who are cohabiting, it is possible to form a legal agreement which governs each individual’s rights and responsibilities regarding the property.

Most couples don’t realise this is possible, however it is helpful to have a cohabitation agreement in place in case of the relationship failing.

Of course, we understand that no-one wants to enter into a living arrangement with the idea that their relationship will fail, however, a cohabitation agreement can act as a safety net if that unfortunately does happen.

Cohabitation agreements can essentially outline cohabiting couples’ property rights whilst they are living together, which can make it easier to understand what their rights are in the event of a breakup too.

We can help you set up your cohabitation agreements.
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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a ‘Common Law Marriage’?

A ‘common law marriage’ is how some refer to couples who are cohabiting but aren’t legally married. You don’t have the same rights as a couple who is married, so in the event of a separation rights and responsibilities may surprise you.

What Can A Cohabitation Agreement Do?

A cohabitation agreement can cover how you’ll share the rent or mortgage and bills between you and how to deal with any bank accounts, property or assets if you separate.

Cohabitation agreements are not always legally enforceable, however it is possible to make them so by seeking the advice and guidance of a family law solicitor.

Living together agreements can be useful to couples living in rented housing or couples who own property together.

What is an Occupation Order?

An occupation order is an order granted by the court which decides who should or should not live in the family home. It can also deal with financial issues regarding the property such as who pays rent or mortgage payments.

To remain in your property on a short-term basis you must apply for an occupation order, which will only last for a limited amount of time and is only available where at least one of you owns the property. To be able to apply for this, you can be the sole owner, joint owner, have a ‘beneficial interest’ in the property as the partner of the sole owner.

If you are not the sole or joint owner of the property then you will only be able to apply for certain types of occupation orders. The partner of the person whose name is on the tenancy agreement may be eligible to apply for something similar to an occupation order and may be granted short-term rights to stay.

Occupation orders can be applied for by victims of domestic abuse in order to prevent their abuser from entering the property so as to keep the victim safe.

What our Family Law Solicitors can do for You

If you have more questions about the cohabitation property rights for unmarried couples, or are struggling to exercise your rights, get in touch with our family law solicitors.

We can help you assess what legal arrangements will be beneficial in your specific situation. We will ensure that your cohabitation agreement clearly outlines the rights of you and your partner if unfortunately a break-up does occur.

We are here to offer you expert legal guidance on cohabitation agreements, cohabitation and property rights.
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