In recent months lockdown rules saw many couples hastily make the decision to move in together without fully considering the legal implications of what it means to be in a cohabiting relationship.

Cohabiting
Do the right thing and cover yourself legally when cohabiting

When the going is good, living with your partner can be great, offering a chance to get to really know each other, but what happens if things turn sour?

As with anything in life, nothing is ever simple when you want to make a swift exit. When the relationship does come to an end; you don’t even need to be married, simply cohabiting can throw up legal implications that you’d perhaps not even considered before.

Knowledge is power and so we spoke to legal experts to give us the downlow on all things cohabiting and your rights when it comes to breakups.


What does cohabiting even mean?

Cohabitation is a situation in which two people are living together unmarried but in a sexual or intimate relationship.

In most cases, as a cohabitant, you’ll have fewer rights than someone who is married. Couples who live together are often referred to as common law partners, but this is just another fancy name for cohabitants.

As unromantic as it sounds, if you’re wanting to ‘cover your back’ you may wish to get a living together agreement, otherwise known as a cohabitation agreement—this should also be accompanied by a declaration of trust, which acts as a signifier of how any property should be shared should the relationship break down.

Cohabitation is a situation in which two people are living together unmarried but in a sexual or intimate relationship.

What about the money situation?

In terms of bank accounts, things are fairly self-explanatory. If you and your partner live together and have separate bank accounts, then the accounts are exactly that—separate. Neither of you can gain access to the other’s account unless you are named on that account.

If, however, the bank account is in both names, then either party can exercise full control over the account unless stipulated otherwise in the terms of agreement with the bank or building society.

In regard to debt, you will only be responsible for anything in your name. For any debts that have been taken out in joint names, however, you will be liable—as goes for any debts that you have acted as a guarantor.

In effect, if your name hasn’t been used, you won’t be affected!

However, many couples who aren’t married and cohabiting choose to share a joint bank account. Generally, each individual has the right to withdraw from the account any amount that is in the account. Usually, if a relationship ends, the amount left in the joint account is shared between partners. If one partner never used the account, whether paying or withdrawing, they may have trouble claiming any rights to it. Always seek expert advice if you’re not sure.

Housing – my house is your house?

If you aren’t married and your partner is the tenant on a rented property, you’ll usually not have rights to stay in the house. Because of this, it is advisable for both parties to get a tenancy agreement, meaning if you do break up, you’ll have equal rights and responsibilities.

Sole tenancies can be amended to joint tenancies if both the tenant and the landlord agree, which is one way of preventing the inevitable headache caused by rental disagreements.

If you wish to pass your estate on to your cohabitant partner, then you will need to make a will, otherwise they may not receive your property.

Death – get your paperwork sorted

If one cohabiting partner passes away and hasn’t left a will, then their estate will not automatically be assigned to the other partner.

If the two partners jointly own a property, then it will be inherited by the remaining partner.

If you wish to pass your estate on to your cohabitant partner, then you will need to make a will, otherwise they may not receive your property. In certain circumstances, if the surviving partner is able to prove that they will not be able to carry on without additional funds that had not been included in the will, they may be able to claim from the estate via the courts.

What about the children?

Regardless of relationship status, when breakups occur, parents still have to fulfil their duties to their children and act responsibly towards them.

Both parents are financially responsible, and it is preferable that some form of informal arrangements are made between the two parents. If needs be, you can make an application to the court for a child arrangement order or contact family law solicitors for assistance.


So, now you know. Do the right thing and cover yourself legally when cohabiting. If things unfortunately end in a breakup, you’ll be glad you did.

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