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Unmarried Couples

Family Law

The myth that there is such a thing as 'common law' marriage still prevails among many of the UK’s adult population. There is no 'common law' or other legal status governing those who live together but do not marry or enter into a civil partnership.

The truth is that it is possible to live together with someone for years and even to have children together, and then walk away without any responsibility for your former partner's welfare.

Our Family Law team are available at our offices in Ashford, Canterbury and Herne Bay to offer you advice tailored to your own specific circumstances either before you start living together or should your relationship breakdown.

Cohabitation Agreements

Cohabitation – where people are living with their partner but not married or in a civil partnership – is the fastest growing family type in the UK, yet there is little or no protection for couples should they separate unless they have a properly constructed cohabitation agreement.

It is therefore important if you are cohabiting to make sure you protect your position by entering into a Cohabitation Agreement. A well drafted Cohabitation Agreement can avoid expensive and lengthy court proceedings should your relationship breakdown.

Financial Disputes

The main area of conflict tends to revolve around the ownership of property. The Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 makes provision for dispute resolution where cohabitees cannot agree property interests when a relationship breaks down. Relevant issues include;

  • The intention of the parties
  • The purpose of the joint purchase
  • The welfare of any children
  • The interests of any secured creditor (e.g. a mortgagee).

The law dealing with financial disputes between couples who live together, but are not married, is complex and it is sensible to seek advice at an early stage.

Financial Claims under the Children Act 1989

Where an unmarried couple have children it may be possible to make a financial claim for the support of the children under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989. Such a claim would be in addition to child maintenance under the Child Maintenance Service regulations.

For further advice, please contact a member of our Family Law team based in Canterbury, Ashford and Herne Bay.

Our Experts

Gemma Purt

Head of Department
Family Law

Anisha Teelwah

Senior Associate Solicitor
Family Law

Joanna Lawrence

Senior Associate Solicitor
Family Law

Curtis Wray

Associate Solicitor
Family Law

Megan Mahesan

Associate Solicitor
Family Law

Katherine Cusack

Family Law

Related Pages


Cohabitation Agreements



What rights do unmarried couples have when they separate?

Unmarried couples do not enjoy the same legal rights as a couple who are in a civil partnership or who are married. It does not matter how long you have lived together, you still do not have the same rights as a married couple should your relationship breakdown.

Legally speaking there is no such thing as a ‘Common-law Husband/Wife’ and living together does not provide you with additional legal rights. If you separate from the partner that you are living with, but are not married to, you will have to rely upon civil law.

We are unmarried and planning to buy a property together, what should we do?

Partners planning on buying a property together often consider making a Declaration of Trust

A Declaration of Trust sets out each party’s specific beneficial interest in the property and can also detail other terms and provision that you may wish to include. For example, details of how expenses relating to the property will be paid or what happens to the property in the event of separation.

You should consider making a Declaration of Trust particularly if you are purchasing a property which will be held in unequal shares, with one party holding a greater interest in the property than the other.

You should also consider whether it is appropriate to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement.

How would a property dispute be resolved if we are unmarried and cohabiting?

If you and your partner have a valid Declaration of Trust or entered into a Cohabitation Agreement any property dispute should be able to be dealt with swiftly and without significant legal costs.

In the absence of these documents, the court will consider the legal ownership of the property. It will be up to the party not named on the title deeds to prove that they have an interest vested in the property.

Before court proceedings are issued, the parties are expected to take measures to attempt to settle the dispute such as forms of alternate dispute resolution, most commonly, mediation/and or arbitration.

Where there is a dispute before the court there can be a substantial amount of documentary evidence to be considered such as contributions made towards the property, when the property was purchased, any renovations or mortgage repayments. It is imperative that evidence is retained so that this can be provided to the court, if required.

Be wary. In civil court proceedings, legal costs orders are often made in favour of the winning party. As such, the losing party usually has to pay their own legal fees together with a substantial contribution to the other party’s legal fees.

Am I responsible for my partner’s debts?

You will not be liable for any debts that are only in your partner’s name however, if you have a joint bank account you may be liable for any debts and charges in relation to that account.

You should seek to remove your name from any joint accounts as soon as possible and where necessary seek to reach an agreement as to what should happen to any funds held in the account(s).

If you jointly own a property, any county court judgements can be pursued against the property, even if the debt was not in your name originally but in the name of the party you jointly own the property with.

Does my partner have a legal obligation to support me financially?

Unmarried couples do not enjoy the same legal rights as married couples or those who have entered into a civil partnership. There is currently no duty for an unmarried partner to support the other partner financially and claims cannot be made in respect of pensions.

If you have children you may be entitled to child maintenance. See more information on making a child maintenance arrangement on the government's website.

What happens if my partner dies?

If your partner dies without leaving a Will, you will not automatically inherit any of their assets. You may inherit jointly owned property but this will depend on the legal ownership of the property and how it is held.

It is possible to make a claim from your partner’s estate if they die without leaving you with the means to live.