Legal rights of unmarried couples


Marriage trends over the last few decades certainly make for interesting reading.

Research has shown that in the 1960’s only 5% of couples lived together before marrying. This figure rose to 70% during the 1990’s. Currently, it is estimated there are over 3 million cohabiting (non-married) families in the UK.

The rise is cohabiting families is borne out by the fact that, statistically, marriage numbers have fallen. In 1971, over 400,000 marriages took place, this fell to just over 260,000 by 2012.

What does this mean from a legal point of view?

Quite a lot actually.  

There is still a common misconception that cohabiting couple have the same legal rights as married couples. In fact they do not, and this could have very serious and costly implications should a relationship break down.

For this reason, it is important that cohabiting couples understand their legal position and consider whether they should take steps to protect themselves if the worst should happen.

Unmarried couples are treated differently to married couples when it comes to:

  • Tax – EG. Inheritance Tax or Capital Gains Tax
  • Pensions – distribution of pensions in the event of a separation
  • Death – the deceased partners assets do not automatically pass to the remaining partner (highlighting the importance of making a Will)
  • Property – if owned in one name only, the other party generally has no automatic rights, despite how much time, effort and money they have put into the home
  • Children – Quite often, only the mother has ‘parental responsibility’ in unmarried couples

Fortunately, there is a way to help to protect yourself in the event that your relationship breaks down.

If you have prepared a Cohabitation Agreement, this can formalise your intensions and give certainty as to the arrangements for your children and financial affairs.

The agreement may cover areas things as:

  • What will happen to the home – will it be sold or will one partner remain in it and how any mortgage and other bills will be split?
  • What arrangements you would like to make for your children (although a Cohabitation Agreement cannot give parental responsibility)
  • How any personal possessions or other financial assets (bank accounts, pensions etc.) are divided
  • How will any debts be repaid

As a Cohabitation Agreement is effectively a contract between the parties, they are legally enforceable. If you are thinking of entering into one is it advisable to have this drafted by a legally qualified specialist and also for each party to take independent legal advice.

Please give me a call if you would like to make an appointment to discuss making a Cohabitation Agreement.



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0113 254 9733

or you can also email us direct and arrange to pop into one of our offices.


0113 254 9733

Pudsey Legal
Cringlebar House,
415 Bradford Road, Pudsey,
Leeds, LS28 7HQ


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