Cohabiting couples do not acquire the same rights as married couples and the law in this area is complex.

Whereas a married person can seek financial provision by way of maintenance orders, a lump sum order, property and pension orders when a relationship breaks down, a cohabitee cannot seek such provision, unless the relationship took the form of a Civil Partnership (in other words, a registered same-sex relationship).

Early advice and assistance is critical.

Our expertise

We have considerable expertise in handling disputes arising from cohabitation, relating both to property and to ongoing financial support for children. We also are increasingly called upon to advise in the preparation of Cohabitation Agreements, in order to provide couples with greater certainty in the event of relationship breakdown.

Many people believe that cohabiting couples acquire the same legal rights as married couples (the so-called “common law wife” myth).

Although Resolution and other organisations are campaigning for a change in the law to give cohabiting couples greater rights, at present someone who has been cohabiting can be shocked to learn that they enjoy very limited protection when a relationship breaks down.


Common issues

Amongst the issues that arise when cohabiting couples separate are:

  • the ownership of property held during the relationship
  • financial provision for children of the relationship
  • resolving child arrangements – for further information, please see Children and Parenting.

The law surrounding property ownership is complex and largely based upon trust law principles.

We have considerable experience in handling cases where property ownership is in dispute, including cases under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, under which the court can make declarations to resolve the ownership of property or for sale.


Cohabitation agreements

We also are increasingly called upon to advise in the preparation of Cohabitation Agreements, in order to provide couples with greater certainty in the event of relationship breakdown.


Children Act Schedule 1 cases

The law governing financial provision for children of cohabiting relationships is set out in Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, under which the court can, for the benefit of a child, make awards for a property, lump sums and, in some circumstances, maintenance.

Edward Cooke handled the first reported case involving a long cohabiting relationship in which the father was not “fabulously rich”, N v D [2008] 1FLR 1629. He has also written articles in this field, including for leading national family law publication “Family Law”.

Should your relationship break down, it is essential you seek early advice. There are a number of options for resolving matters, including negotiationmediation, collaborative law, arbitration or the court process.

Make an Appointment

You can make an appointment by completing the online submission form, or if you would rather speak to a member of
our team please call 01243 769001.