Unmarried Couples

There are over four million couples living together in England and Wales, who are not married or in a Civil Partnership.

Although unmarried couples are given legal protection in several areas, they and their families have significantly fewer rights and responsibilities than those who are married or in a Civil Partnership. Please visit our pages on Children and Collaborative Law to find out how we can help unmarried couples with these issues.

What is a common law marriage?

There is no such thing as a common law marriage.

Most people think that, after they've been living with their partner for a couple of years, they become "common law spouses" with the same rights as married couples. This is not the case. In fact, unmarried couples who live together have hardly any of the same rights as married couples or Civil Partners.

My cohabiting relationship has ended, what do I do now?

If you were in a cohabiting relationship that has now ended, please do contact our family lawyers. Every situation is different and we may be able to help, particularly with children and financial issues.

Do unmarried couples have any financial obligations to each other?

While couples who are married or in a Civil Partnership have a legal duty to support each other, cohabiting couples do not - including after a split.

What are the property issues for an unmarried couple?

Sharing a home with your partner is one of the most important issues to think about, and ideally, your legal position should be clear from the beginning. The implications for not protecting your rights could critically affect your circumstances should the relationship come to an end.

If your home is only in your partner's name it might be difficult to make a claim on that property or prove that you still have the right to continue to live there. This is a common issue for unmarried couples who break up.

The person in whose name the house is registered may be unwilling to pay their ex-partner anything for the property and more importantly, there may not be any legal obligation for them to do so.

If the property is in your partner’s name then your position may be strengthened if you have made a contribution to the purchase price or deposit for the property or you have made regular contributions to the mortgage. However, this may not be the case as all circumstances are different and legal advice is essential.

Problems can also arise where a property is purchased in joint names by unmarried couples. One party may contribute much more of the purchase price than the other party. However, if the correct legal documents are not drawn up to record this, then if the parties separate they may find that the house is not split fairly.

For more information on how you could name both parties as owners of the property please see the page on Buying Together and the page on Transfer Of Equity.

What happens if one of us dies?

If you haven't left your property and possessions to your partner in a Will then there is a strong chance they will get nothing. Your possessions will go to your next of kin, or possibly even the treasury so a Will is essential. For more information please see our page on Wills.

Do we have to marry to protect ourselves?

Not necessarily. There are various documents that can be created in order to make sure that you have the necessary legal rights without having to marry. For example, you could make a Will, and place both names on the title deeds. We are able help you with all of these documents.