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The Cohabitation Rights Bill – what does it mean for unmarried couples?


As family lawyers we are often asked about the rights and entitlements of separating couples who are cohabiting and unmarried.

Many unmarried couples who live together assume that after a long period of cohabitation, they will be entitled to claim a share of their partner’s assets when they separate. Currently, this is not the case.

Under the current law, cohabiting partners must divide jointly owned property if they separate, but if there are assets held in their sole names, such as pensions, savings and investments, these will not be divided. This leaves people who choose to cohabit in a vulnerable position.

A typical scenario is that one partner will stop working to raise a young family, while the other partner remains in employment and may build up a pension and savings in their sole name. If the couple subsequently split up, the non-working partner will not be entitled to a share of their partner’s assets, unless they are held jointly.

The Cohabitation Rights Bill aims to improve this situation. The proposed change in the law will allow couples with children, or couples without children who have lived together for two or more years, the right to apply for a financial settlement. This financial settlement can take the form of a cash lump sum, the transfer of a property to their sole name or the ability to insist on the sale of their partner’s property to receive a share of the proceeds.

In order to qualify for this financial settlement you would need to either show that you have suffered an economic disadvantage as a result of the relationship or that you have made a contribution to the assets. This does not have to be a financial contribution; it can be caring for the children and maintaining the home.

This will be good news for many people in long-term relationships who are living together. However, if you and your partner have made the decision not to get married and you do not want to qualify for a financial settlement then you can agree to ‘opt out’.

For more information on the rights of cohabiting couples or to discuss any aspect of family law please contact Janine Hutson on 01772 258321. 

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