Living Together vs Marriage

In the most recent report published by the National Office of Statistics, divorce rates are falling across Europe, with the UK having experienced the biggest fall in the last 25 years.

Simultaneously, the number of cohabiting couples has continued to grow faster than married couples. There is still a common misunderstanding that cohabiting partners are a ‘common law spouse’, and are entitled to a share of the home they are living in and any shared assets if the relationship breaks down.

In marriage, each married partner has a legal duty to financially support the other. In the event of a marriage breakdown, any property and assets will be taken into account when arriving at a financial settlement on divorce. The court has wide discretion to make orders belonging to either party when distributing any wealth to reach a fair settlement, often with the objective to meet the needs of both parties.

If you are an unmarried, co-habiting couple, you will have fewer legal rights than a married couple. Unlike married couples, neither unmarried partners have the legal duty to support the other financially. Voluntary agreements are difficult to enforce, and any issue of ownership of property can become quite complicated. As a result, disputes are sometimes raised, particularly when the parties have not given much thought to how they will own the property if the relationship breaks down.

However, there are steps both parties can take to protect their position as an unmarried couple. A solicitor can formalise your living arrangements, by creating a cohabitation agreement. Although a cohabitation agreement is not legally binding, it will provide clear evidence of your intentions towards each other; from property ownership, to financial arrangements, and the rights and obligations each party has with one another. In all cases, whether property is owned jointly or by one party, it is also advisable having a solicitor draw up a declaration of trust; a legal agreement setting out precisely how you share your property.

In terms of children, while a mother will always have parental responsibility for her child from birth, a father will have parental responsibility if he was married to the mother, or if he is named on the child’s birth certificate. An unmarried father can only acquire parental responsibility by either jointly registering the child’s birth (from 1st December 2003), by agreement with the mother or through a court order.

Whether living together or married, if parents separate, they may make informal arrangements for their children, if that is not possible, they may apply to the court for an order. Regardless of their relationship status, both parents are responsible for financially supporting their children.

If you would like advice on any aspect of cohabitation or the breakdown of a relationship, please contact Georgina Suman on 020 8767 8336 or

* This is intended as a brief note for client’s and should not be relied upon as a substitute for full legal advice. Please speak to a member of the family team.

Georgina Suman AB

Georgina Suman AB