In modern relationships, it is common for couples to live together without taking the further step of getting married. Cohabitees nonetheless have fewer legal rights and responsibilities surrounding their relationship than a couple that is married. A common law spouse is not legally recognised under English & Welsh law.
Rights of a cohabiting couple
In England and Wales couples that live together have no default rights to their partner’s estate in the event they die. This is the case if the couple has children together. Neither does a cohabiting partner have any right to the moveable assets of their partner. The position differs with joint bank accounts and jointly owned debt – where one dies the other will assume ownership or responsibility.
One exception exists under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, where a cohabitant can seek reasonable provision from the estate of the deceased.
While no automatic rights arise from cohabitation, it is advisable for a cohabiting couple to draft stand-alone legal agreements that establish their responsibilities to one another.
A couple that is living together can draft a cohabitation contract which provides for responsibilities during cohabitation to one another. This can cover living arrangements, finances and division of jointly owned assets.
To be considered valid, it is advisable for both parties to seek independent legal advice.
If a couple wishes to guarantee that the surviving partner receives their share in a property, regardless of the existence of a Will, an option is to enter into a joint tenancy. A joint tenancy awards the right of survivorship to the joint owner regardless of any rule of intestacy or contrary Will drafted.
Drafting a Will
If a cohabiting couple wishes to make provision for one another after they are gone, it is highly advisable to draft a Will in their favour. If a person dies intestate, following the rules of intestacy their partner would have no claim to the estate.
One exception to the lack of responsibilities between cohabiting couples is if a court intervenes to place a Child Arrangement Order as to how much time a former partner should have with the child, including who should be the main caregiver. An unmarried father does not have automatic parental responsibilities, unless named on the child's birth certificate. A court may intervene to place financial support obligations upon the father towards the child, however.
Contact our Wills and Probate Solicitors London
If you are in a long-term, cohabiting relationship, we encourage you to consult our Wills and Probate Solicitors to protect your estate and your partner's rights to your inheritance. If you are not married or in a civil partnership, your partner has no legal right to a share of your estate, unless you specifically outline your wishes in your Will.
Our experienced Wills and Probate Lawyers are equipped to handle even most challenging legal matters, including complex cases involving the rights of cohabiting couples.