Dispelling the myths of cohabiting

It’s a very common misunderstanding that couples that are unmarried have similar rights to those who aren’t - but it’s worth seeking advice on that, particularly if you’re later on in life.

There’s no such thing as a cohabiting law

According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, 46% of people believe that living in a house with a partner offers them protection in the form of “common law marriage” rules. They think they have a right to a claim on that property if the relationship breaks down or if one person in the partnership dies, but this is a myth.

If you’re married and your spouse passes away, their estate automatically passes to the surviving spouse, but if you’re not married, it will go to another next of kin. This could be parents, siblings, children - or even an ex spouse.

This could prove tricky where there are unmarried partners who have children, or where one partner has taken a career break to look after elderly family members or young children, and therefore have fewer savings to fall back on.

Could this be about to change?

Recent stats from the Office for National Statistics say that the number of cohabiting couples increased by 4% between 2011 and 2021 and that almost 1 in 4 couples living in the UK are classed as “cohabiting”.

Conversely, the proportion of married couples or those in civil partnership decreased to 75.7%, from 79.4% in 2011.

As the number of cohabiting couples continues to grow, some say it’s about time these outdated rules were changed so that there is more protection for cohabiting couples. This is an important and growing issue, that some say may be given priority in future, and, the tax system already refers to couples as “married” or “living together as married”, so why wouldn’t the legal system keep pace?

However, arguments on the flip side say that there’s nothing to stop couples from entering into a cohabitation agreement. This is a legal document that outlines what will happen if the couple separates, or if one person in the partnership becomes ill or dies.

You don’t have to get married to enter in to a cohabitation agreement

Which is why many people argue against the need for the law to change - especially as some groups say that it calls into question the purpose of marriage in the first place as a commitment to each other.

Whether you marry or not, it is worth seeking advice about where you stand. If you choose to marry, you might find you're in a more secure position in law, and there can be some tax advantages too. If you’re more on the side of remaining unmarried, you should investigate where you stand from a legal perspective if things were to break down or if one of you was to pass away - especially as your right may not be what you think they are.

Contact the Downs Family Team to see how we can help.



Nicola Conley

Nicola Conley


Tel: +44 (0) 1306 502293

Office: Dorking Office

Email: n.conley@downslaw.co.uk