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Cohabitation Property Rights for Unmarried Couples

In the 21st century, marriage is not everyone’s first choice: in the UK in 2017 there were 3.3 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.

Of course, there are many benefits for marrying and remaining as a cohabiting couple respectively.

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 cohabitation property rights for unmarried 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.

Cohabitation property rights for unmarried couples

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

However, if you choose to enter into a joint tenancy agreement with your partner then you have equal rights with them to stay in the property if the relationship breaks down.

It 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.

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.

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.

Rights to Stay

Cohabitation 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 Cohabiting Rights

It is possible to get short-term rights to remain in a property as an unmarried partner.

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

If you need to stay and you are not the tenant or owner, you must consult an experienced adviser like a family law solicitor to help you understand your rights.

Occupation Order

To remain in the 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 party owns the property.

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.

To be able to apply for this, you can be the sole owner, joint owner, have a ‘beneficial interest’ in the property or 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.

This would be evaluated in court on a case-by-case basis.

Cohabitation Agreements

For unmarried couples living together, it is possible to form a legal agreement which governs each individual’s rights and responsibilities.

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

Of course, 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 occur.

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.

How our Family Law Solicitors can Help

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 on 0844 414 0667.

Our family law experts can help you assess what legal arrangements will be beneficial in your specific situation. They will ensure that your cohabitation agreement will unambiguously outlines your, and your partners rights if unfortunately a break-up does occur.

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