Legal rights of couples who live together

Many couples in modern society choose to live together without getting married or entering into a civil partnership. However, living together in this manner leaves them with fewer rights than they would have if they were married.

27th April 2018

This decision affects the entitlement of one partner to the other’s estate upon death, to a share of the property upon separation, and to parental responsibility of any children.

Inheritance and intestacy

Cohabiting couples will have no automatic right to each other’s assets upon death, which is why it is vital to make wills if you live together unmarried with your partner. Intestacy rules, which come into play when somebody dies without making a will, dictate that, when no will has been made, assets will be passed on to the next of kin, or even the Crown when no family member can be found.

cohabiting couples will have no automatic right to each other’s assets upon death

Mirror wills may be suitable for couples who have similar or identical wishes.

Children and parental responsibility

Mothers automatically have parental responsibility for any children they have and cannot lose it, except through adoption.

However, an unmarried father does not have automatic parental responsibility for his child. Though as of 1 December 2003, he will have it if he registers the birth with the mother.

If you are an unmarried father and do not have parental responsibility through jointly registering the birth, the easiest way to get it is to make a parental responsibility agreement with the mother (this can also be done through a court order in scenarios where the mother doesn’t agree).

A form for setting up a parental responsibility agreement can be downloaded from the government’s website.  Once you have filled it in you should take it to your local County Court or family proceedings court to sign it in the presence of witnesses. You should take the child’s birth certificate and proof of your identity to the court.

Two copies of the form, once completed, should be sent to:

Principal Registry of the Family Division
First Avenue House
42-49 High Holborn


If you buy property as an unmarried couple, then it is advisable to purchase it jointly. Should a cohabiting couple split, if the property in which they lived is only in the name of one of the partners, the other will have no automatic right to any share of it.

If you buy property as an unmarried couple, then it is advisable to purchase it jointly.

So if as a cohabiting couple you have been effectively sharing the property but it is placed in only one of your names, the other party could seriously lose out.

However, even if you do not have joint ownership of your property, you may be able to demonstrate that you are entitled to a share of it through ‘common intention’, which means there was an agreement between the couple that the property was shared. You could achieve this if you contributed financially to the purchase of the property or helped with mortgage payments, for example.

If this is contested by your ex-partner, however, you may have to go to court.

Cohabitation or living together agreements

A cohabiting couple can have their relationship legally recognised by drafting a cohabitation (or living together) agreement. Such a document can formalise the couple’s rights and responsibilities towards each other, and make things more clear cut in the event of the relationship coming to an end.

A cohabitation agreement can cover such things as:

  • How the paying of the mortgage, rent and different bills will be split between you.
  • Details of any debts owed by either partner and how they will be dealt with.
  • What would happen to property if the relationship were to end, as well as items bought together.
  • Arrangements for children, either existing or planned, and what would happen with regard to them if the relationship were to end.

These agreements can be enforced legally if they are written in the correct manner and signed by both parties, as they constitute a contract between the couple. Therefore, as the parties will be obliged to act as set out in the agreement, it is advisable to have your agreement checked by a solicitor.

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