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Cohabitation vs Marriage

divorce law


Are you cohabiting? Do you know if you have any rights? Cohabitation vs marriage…….

Resolution has carried out a survey which found two-thirds of cohabiting couples wrongly believe “common-law marriage” laws exist when dividing up finances.

You could be living with someone for many years but completely unaware that you have limited or no rights.

The problem

The number of unmarried couples living together has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017.

The ComRes poll of 2,000 UK adults, by Resolution, found 84% of people thought the government should take steps to make sure unmarried cohabiting couples knew they did not have the same legal protection as married couples.

Of these respondents, 281 people were in a cohabiting relationship – two-thirds of which thought they were common-law married.

A further four in five cohabitants believed that the legal rights surrounding cohabiting people who separate were “unclear”.

Cohabiting couples, however, can be recognised under Scottish Law in some circumstances – and separate legislation introduced in 2006 enables a cohabitant to apply to the court for financial provision.

Cohabiting vs marriage: how your rights can differ

  1. If one cohabiting partner dies without leaving a will, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything – unless the couple jointly own property. A married partner would inherit all or some of the estate


  1. An unmarried partner who stays at home to care for children cannot make any claims in their own right for property, maintenance or pension-sharing


  1. Cohabiting partners cannot access their partner’s bank account if they die – whereas married couples may be allowed to withdraw the balance providing the amount is small


  1. An unmarried couple can separate without going to court, but married couples need to go to a court and get divorced to end the marriage formally


  1. Cohabiting couples are not legally obliged to support each other financially, but married partners have a legal duty to support each other


  1. If you are the unmarried partner of a tenant, you have no rights to stay in the accommodation if you are asked to leave – but each married partner has the right to live in the “matrimonial home”

Source: Citizens Advice


The law is behind the times and there is a real need for reform, to even provide for basic rights of cohabiting couples. Society has changed and the law needs to keep up with the ever growing unmarried couples.

All of this demonstrates that we have laws which are out of touch with society, unclear and unfair.

If you require any advice in relation to cohabitation or any issue relating to family law please contact or telephone:

Wilmslow       01625 544650

Knutsford      01565 648228

London          0207 947219

Manchester   0161 804 8441

For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: or telephone:

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