There is a commonly held belief that if you cohabit with another person you will acquire certain rights; in particular, rights over that person's property or a right to be supported by him or her. This is not the case. There is no such thing as a "common law" wife or husband able as of right to claim maintenance from her cohabitant.
Unlike with married couples there is no one law which specifically applies to cohabitants.
If you buy a house jointly with the person you live with, your ownership of that property will be governed by Property Law. If you do not jointly own a house with your cohabitant then the only way you can establish any interest in it is by either making a direct contribution to the payment of the mortgage or making a capital investment in the property. The Law relating to this is complex and can cause enormous difficulties with separating couples who are not married.
Although the Court has power to make orders for the transfer of property where there are dependent children (to provide a home for those children) these orders are not automatic and cannot be relied upon.
It is possible to have a Cohabitation Agreement drawn up which can set out, among other things the basis on which a couple intend to live together, contribute towards household expenses and divide property if the relationship breaks down. It can also make provision for what is to happen on the death of either party and thereby avoid the need for applications to the Court.
As with Separation Agreements a Court will take account of a Cohabitation Agreement but it has a discretion not to do so and will not do so if the Agreement is clearly contrary to Property Law or if to enforce it would not be in the interests of any dependent children.
Since the law relating to Cohabitants is inherently unfair both the Law Society and the Solicitors Family Law Association, now called Resolution, have put forward proposals for change. In the present political climate it is likely that some of these proposals will be implemented in the not too distant future. For further details go to the Law Society's website at www.lawsociety.org.uk or Resolution's website at www.resolution.org.uk.
The FJG Family Law Partnership can provide advice in relation to drawing up a Cohabitation Agreement. For further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org