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There is a common misconception that if you live with someone, that you are automatically in a common law marriage. That is untrue.

If you are not married, or in a civil partnership, then you have less rights than you may think, should you separate from your partner. This is even the case if you have children together.

When married partners separate, the law sets out how property, pensions and income are to be divided between the spouses.

When you cohabit and you separate, there is no such law. For example if you live in your partner’s property, you do not have an automatic right to stay there or claim a share in the property, even if you have children together who live there with you.  To make a claim against the property you have to prove that you have a legal claim based on monetary contributions or sometimes promises that were made which lead you to act in a different way.  You should seek legal advice to see if you might have a claim.

If the house you own together is in your joint names, again you do not have an automatic right to stay there, even with children. The court could decide whether the house is sold or whether one party should buy out the other’s share.  Having children together is just one factor the court can consider.  It is not, however, the first consideration that it is in a divorce or separation.

If you have children together, your partner has a duty to support them by paying child maintenance but they do not have a duty to support you or to house you.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Before you move in with your partner, you should enter into a Cohabitation or Living Together Agreement. This would set out your intentions at the start, who owns what, how you are going to contribute to the household and most importantly, what happens should you separate.  It is easier to agree this at the beginning of the relationship rather than at the end.

Alternatively you can enter into a Declaration of Trust. This sets out how you own the property, whether one party owns it, or whether you have distinct shares in it.  Again, it can set out what should happen if one party brings the relationship to an end.

It is therefore essential that you do take legal advice on this issue because it is rarely as straightforward as perhaps you might think.

This year, Resolution are staging an awareness week for cohabiting couples from 25th-29th  November 2019. To find out more visit

Should you have any queries about cohabitation or would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Family Team:

Exeter – 01392 285000    Newton Abbot – 01626 330127    Cullompton – 01884 33818

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