What are the rights of co-habiting couples?

It is estimated that there are 3.4 million cohabiting couples in the UK with the number rising each year, making it the second largest family group.

Many couples will not know what rights they have when they are cohabiting rather than as married or civil partners, with many wrongly assuming that they have ‘common law’ rights as a partner.

Here we shall discuss what rights you have as a cohabiting couple in regards to property and children.




It is always advisable to register the interests of both people when it comes to property, either rented or a private property.


If you are looking to buy a property together, you can both be entered on the property register as joint tenants or tenants in common.


Joint tenantsA couple will own the property jointly and equally.   In the event of the death of one of the couple, the property will pass automatically to the other through survivorship.  There may still be inheritance tax payable, unlike the case of spouses who will take property tax free on the death of the other.


Tenants in common – Each person will own a specific share in the property.  It is presumed, that unless there is a Declaration of Trust or another document stating otherwise, that each person will hold an equal share.  Therefore if you have decided to hold the property in unequal shares, you should have this documented so that in the event of a breakup or on death, you do not lose your share.  A will should also be drawn up if you plan to leave your share to your partner, as otherwise it will be determined by the rules of intestacy [this is a good opportunity to link to the article on this]


Where your partner owns the property – in this case you would have no automatic rights to the property in the event of a separation or death, you could also be asked to leave at any time.  If you have children, the property could be transferred  into your name if a court decides it is in the best interests of the children.  This may be only for a specified time however, normally until the children are 18.


If you do not have children, although you do not have an automatic claim to the property, you may be able to claim a right to the property, if you can show you have a beneficial interest.  This will be based on any contributions you have made to the property or if it was agreed with your partner you would have an interest.


When moving into a new property with your partner it is best to seek legal advice on what rights you would have in the event of a break up or death.  A solicitor will be able to give you advice on documents such as a Declaration of Trust or Cohabitation Agreement.




If you are not married at the time of your child’s birth, the father will not automatically obtain parental responsibility, even if they have been in the child’s life since birth.


A father who is not on the birth certificate will still be required to contribute financially to their child, but he will have no say in any important matters that may arise, such as schooling or medical treatment.  To have parental responsibility a father will be named on the birth certificate or a parental responsibility agreement.


As for married couples, if you separate you are able to make informal arrangements as to who the children live and spend time with, however if you are unable to make arrangements between yourselves, you may apply to the court for a child arrangements order.


Both parents are responsible for financially supporting their children, despite where they live or who they spend time with.  If an arrangement for contributions cannot be agreed between you, an application can be made by the resident parent to the Child Maintenance Service.


CP Law’s team of expert Family solicitors are available for advice on this issue. Speak to a member of our team today, contact us on 0345 2413100 or email us at