"Common law” partners are more likely than ever to take care over legal rights

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) cohabiting couples are one of the fastest growing family types in the UK. Even though the law seems slow to catch up with this increasing trend, couples appear to be more prepared than ever when it comes to protecting their legal rights in the event of a separation.

The ONS’ research claims that married couple families remain the most common, but their proportion has declined recently from 69.1% of families in 2008 to 67.1% in 2018 (source as before). Cohabiting couples were the fastest growing family type in 2018, with the proportion of cohabiting couple families increasing from 15.3% to 17.9%, equating to 3.4 million.

One reason is thought to be down to couples choosing to live together before getting married or entering into a civil partnership, but there was also an increase in the number of same sex couple families choosing to cohabit - either with or without getting married or becoming civil partners.

The way people live together is changing, but the law still looks more favourably to those who are married or civil partners , than those who simply co-habit.

According to current law where couples are not married or civil partners, they have no legal right to partner's possessions in the event of a separation. Therefore, it is possible to live with someone for decades and have children together, but if the relationship breaks down there is no responsibility for either partner. This is controversial given that one parent may have been the main provider of childcare, yet find themselves without ample living conditions or financial income upon separation with a partner.

Despite this, research shows that unmarried couples or where there is no civil partnership, are now taking matters into their own hands when it comes to legal protection. According to research by the insurer, Direct Line, applications for co-habitation agreements have risen by one fifth in the last 12 months. This could protect couples in the event of a separation by ensuring that any property, assets or childcare are divided equally.

As well as a co-habitation agreement, couples can also opt for a pre- or post-nup which can protect them if they choose to marry or enter a civil partnership, in the future. However, as with any documentation of this nature, it is always recommended you seek legal advice before entering into such an agreement.

Couples whether they are married, civil partners or not are advised to make wills and also consider making lasting powers of attorney.

If you would like further information, please contact the Private Client team at Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.


Liz Dalgetty

Liz Dalgetty

Consultant Solicitor & Notary Public

Tel: +44 (0) 1306 502251

Office: Dorking

Email: l.dalgetty@downslaw.co.uk