Cohabiting couples are the second largest family type and the fastest growing, having more than doubled from 1.5 million families in 1996 to 3.3 million families in 2017, the Office of National Statistics reported.

However, the law has not changed in recent years to reflect this and to protect individuals who cohabit rather than marry, when their relationships break down. There is no specific legal protection in place for cohabiting couples, as there is for married couples, when their relationship breaks down.

Instead, cohabiting couples have to rely on law relating to property that covers any other type of relationship, who have purchased property together, e.g. friends, brothers and sisters, parents and children etc.

Legally there is law to protect married couples and to guide what happens to their assets when their marriage breaks down, but there is no specific legal protection for unmarried couples. The law used relates to property only.

A recent poll suggests that the millions of unmarried couples living together are not aware that they are at financial risk should their relationship end.

The main poll findings are:

  • 27% think that if they live together for more than 2 years they will have similar rights to married couples if they break up
  • 37% believe there is such thing as ‘common law marriage’
  • 84% agree the Government should take action to ensure unmarried couples are aware that they do not have the same legal protection as married couples if they separate or if one of them dies
  • 40% of people either did not know, or believed it to be true that if one partner dies without making a Will the property automatically passes to the other partner
  • 76% responded to agree that if one partner gives up work to look after their children they should be entitled to financial support
  • 89% said that they agree that advice should be provided to them as part of property purchases to ensure they are aware of their legal rights should they separate


Top Marriage v Cohabitation myths debunked

1. There is no such legal term as ‘common law marriage’.

2. There are no automatic property rights for cohabiting couples, there are for married couples.

3. If you are not a legal owner of the property you live in and your partner dies, the property does not pass to you automatically, it may if you are married.

4. If you are not married and you give up work to look after your children there is no financial support for you from your ex-partner, there is if you are married.

5. There is no one law that specifies what happens to your family assets if you are not married, there is if you are married.

6. If you pay the bills in your family home and your partner pays the mortgage and you are not married, you may not be able to show an interest in the property as you have not contributed to the mortgage. If you are married you do not need to show financial contribution.


Deepa Sidhu

Deepa is our Family Law expert, with clear and concise advice, she can help on all matters arising within Family Law.  Call Deepa now on 020 7379 7277 or email


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