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Legal News | 13.11.23

‘I do!’ think the law needs to change for cohabitees

Cohabiting couples - what are their rights? Wansbroughs LLP

The outdated stereotypes associated with children being born ‘out of wedlock’ are clearly a thing of the past, with 51% of children being born to unmarried parents in 2021. So why is this not reflected in our current law?


The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 is the key legislation for divorcing couples. Section 25 of the Act enables the court to make orders for financial provision to the parties of a marriage and focuses on the fair distribution of matrimonial assets. The courts have discretion when making orders to achieve the overriding objective of fairness.

What is a cohabitee?

Under the current law in England and Wales, there is currently no legal definition of a cohabitee. Regardless of the length of a relationship or even if there are children, cohabiting couples have no legal status, and a ‘common law marriage’ does not exist.

What rights do cohabitees have?

Cohabitees do not have the same rights as married couples, and this can affect the division of property, pensions, maintenance, and inheritance on the breakdown of a relationship. Currently, the only protection for cohabitees is under a legally binding cohabitation agreement. This is the best way to ensure a couple’s financial assets are legally protected and to pre-empt costly litigation in the event of an acrimonious separation.


England and Wales are behind other countries in this area of law. Scotland, Australia, and New Zealand have all extended legislation to offer legal protection to cohabitees who have been living together for a specified period, in the same way as married couples.

How we can help?

If you are a cohabitee and are affected by these concerns, Wansbroughs can assist in drafting a cohabitation agreement for you and your partner. This can set out the ownership of existing assets and provide clear provision for exactly what should happen in the event of the breakdown of your relationship. A cohabitation agreement is a legal contract which, if drafted correctly, will be upheld by the Court. Our experienced team of family lawyers at Wansbroughs are well equipped to prepare a comprehensive cohabitation agreement that is tailored to your own individual needs. Dealing with issues from the outset will hopefully avoid the possibility of any expensive litigation costs and it will ensure couples are aware of the intentions of both parties when living together.

For more information on cohabiting and drafting a cohabitation agreement, please contact Wansbroughs’ Family team on 01380 733300 or email family@wansbroughs.com