Family dynamics have undoubtedly changed as a consequence of the pandemic. We have seen an
acceleration in separations, with the number of couples divorcing rising as well as an increase in
cohabitation. Whilst couples may have previously taken the time to enjoy their relatively new
relationship before living together, they are now doing so much more quickly than they would have
The formation of the pandemic tiering and “bubble” system has no doubt contributed towards that
increase. People are thinking much more about the here and now rather than their long-term future
and what living together really means from a legal perspective. What is likely to follow in the months
and years to come therefore is a significant increase in legal disputes between cohabiting couples.
There has been calls to reform cohabitation law for many years. The current law fails to recognize
the rights of cohabiting couples in the same way as those of married couples. There is generally no
claim for maintenance as there may be for a spouse and there is no claim for a pension share either.
Those that have children may have other claims, but most will be limited to child maintenance –
which if not agreed, can be assessed by the Child Maintenance Service.
Generally, a separating cohabitee’s claims are limited to the property in which they live. But sadly,
most people only realise this once their relationship has already broken down. They find out that
they are not a “common law” husband or wife – that is just a myth. As a lawyer, this advice is the
most unpleasant to give. Clients come to you with expectations that are so far from what they will
realistically be able to achieve. You can see their devastation when receiving this advice.
In these circumstances, unfortunately I am telling many people who have been in a cohabiting
relationship for many years and have been the homemaker, that they have no rights to a share of
the home. This is why it is so important to take early legal advice from a family lawyer at the outset
of living together, or to get some advice if you are already cohabiting. Don’t rely on google or a
friend’s advice. Many people don’t appreciate the significant difference in the law on divorce to that
of cohabitation, or they mix up the law that applies to England from the law in other countries.
What can you do if you decide to cohabit?
1. If buying a house together, make sure your conveyancer is aware that you are not married
and carefully consider the paperwork provided by your your conveyancer so you understand
and are aware of the implications of how you hold the property and what would happen if
you were to separate or die. Too many people see the conveyancing paperwork as a box
ticking exercise without really thinking about or knowing the implication of what they are
signing. Get legal advice from a family lawyer and they can advise you upon how you should
share ownership of the property.
2. Have a declaration of trust drawn up which sets out your ownership of the property and
what financial contributions you have made towards the property if they are different.
3. If you are not buying a house but are moving into the property of your partner, consider a
living together agreement. It’s similar to a declaration of trust but it can cover more day to
day matters such as who is to pay for specific bills, debts, joins accounts, how repairs will be
funded, renovation works etc.
4. If you have a parent or family member who is giving you monies which you intend to use for
a property you will live in with a cohabitee, tell them to take advice so they can protect their
5. Make a will –If your cohabitee dies intestate (without a will) you could be left with nothing.
If you take advice and consider the above, you give yourself the piece of mind of having certainty
as to what your situation will be if you separate and you save yourself the thousands it may cost
in having to be involved in contested proceedings to sort the situation out.
If you wish to receive advice to protect your position because you intend to live with someone or
perhaps you are already living with someone and want to know where you stand, call Gianna
Lisiecki-Cunane, a director at O’Donnell Solicitors, on 01457 761670 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org for a no obligation appointment.