What constitutes cohabitation

Cohabitation generally means living together as a couple. When people decide to live together, they do not automatically qualify for the same protection under the law as married people or people in a civil partnership. This includes so-called common law wives and husbands. When a relationship between two cohabiting people ends, there are numerous legal issues that can affect what happens next.

Cohabitation/living together agreements

People who decide to live together can make a cohabitation contract/living together agreement to outline their obligations and rights in various circumstances. Although such an agreement can be useful, they are not always legally binding. Promises made in a cohabitation/living together agreement can be made legally binding. In a few areas, cohabiting couples have the same rights as married couples, but in most cases they will be treated differently. The best solution to the problem of how to establish legal rights is for the couple to draw up legally enforceable agreements with the aid of a solicitor.

The home

Neither person has any basic rights to their partner’s property or maintenance. What happens to the home when a relationship breaks up depends on its ownership.

If the house was held as a ‘joint tenancy’ by the couple:

  • They will both hold an equal share in the home;

  • Neither person is able to take the other person’s share as long as the joint tenancy exists;

  • If one person dies, the other person will automatically inherit the whole property;

  • It is not possible for a person to will the property to another person unless both partners agree;

If the house was held as a ‘tenancy in common’:

  • It will be held in shares agreed upon when the property is bought. One person might own 75% of the property and the other person 25% of the property, for instance;

  • If the shares are not stated, the law will usually say that the shares are equal;

  • If one person dies, their share in the property will be passed on according to their will or, in the event that there is no will, it will pass on to their next of kin.

If the house was rented and the tenancy agreement names both people, then they are both responsible for the rent.

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For more information on:

  • Finances
  • Possessions
  • Death and inheritance
  • Tax
  • Can a partner qualify as next of kin?
  • Adoption
  • What will happen to any children if the relationship ends?
  • Qualifying for legal aid
  • Gay or Lesbian cohabitation
  • Cohabitation and student finances
  • Welfare benefits