Cohabitation

Many people believe that cohabiting couples acquire the same legal rights as married couples (the so-called “common law wife” myth). Although it is possible that the law may change in due course to give cohabiting couples greater rights, at present cohabiting couples do not enjoy such rights. Whereas a married person can seek financial provision by way of maintenance, lump sum, property and pension orders when a relationship breaks down, a cohabitee cannot seek such provision, unless the relationship took the form of a Civil Partnership (in other words, a registered same-sex relationship).

The main issues that arise when cohabiting couples separate are:

  • The ownership of property held during the relationship
  • Financial provision for children of the relationship

The law surrounding property ownership is complex and largely based upon trust law principles. We have considerable experience in handling such cases, including cases under the Trusts of Land Act and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, under which the court can make declarations to resolve the ownership of property.

We also are increasingly called upon to advise in the preparation of cohabitation agreements, in order to provide couples with greater certainty in the event of relationship breakdown.

The law governing financial provision for children of cohabiting relationships is set out in Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, under which the court can, for the benefit of a child, make awards for a property, lump sums and, in some circumstances, maintenance.

It is essential that, should your relationship break down, you seek early advice. There are a number of options for resolving matters, including negotiation through solicitors, mediation, collaborative law or an application to the court.

We can meet with you at our offices in Chichester, Petworth or Storrington.