When two people who are not married but who live together in a conjugal relationship, the law refers to it as cohabitation. There is a lot of misunderstanding over the laws on cohabitation, particularly as they refer to any assets and finances of the people involved in the relationship. Legally, there is no such thing as a common law husband or wife, even though the term is sometimes bandied about in connection with the law. The fact of the matter is that marriage is a legal contract and there is legislation in place to protect the interests of the people involved if there is an irretrievable breakdown of that marriage. There is no legislation in place to protect the interests of people who cohabit.

Legally, what applies in regards to the assets of people who live together without the benefit of marriage, is the same as that which applies to two strangers who may live together. The same rules or lack of them, apply to two people of the same sex who choose to live together without entering into a legal civil partnership. Civil partnerships were devised to give people in gay and lesbian relationships the same rights as married couples. If the two people decide not to register their relationship then they have no financial rights if the relationship breaks down or one of the partners dies.

When people cohabit the cohabitees name is not on the mortgage documents. Although it is believed that a partner can claim an interest in the property if they can prove their financial contributions should the relationship break down, this is not the case. Unmarried fathers do not have the same rights as unmarried mothers or as married fathers. If the father’s name is on the birth certificate of a child born after December 2003 then that parent can apply to the courts for parental responsibility. Unmarried fathers do not have automatic rights to parental responsibility in the same way as either unmarried mothers or married fathers.

One way of protecting yourself if the relationship should break down is to have your solicitor draw up a living together agreement which is much the same thing as a pre-nuptial agreement. The same thing applies to same sex couples who choose to live together without benefit of the law. A living together agreement, like a pre-nuptial agreement is not enforceable under UK law. A judge will, however, take any agreement into consideration if asked to make a financial assessment if the relationship breaks down. The courts are more likely to see cohabitation contracts as binding if they refer to property and money where certain conditions have to be met. Such a contract is designed to show the court that there was an attempt made to legalise aspects of the relationship.

Cohabitation agreements are more than just a division of assets and refer to power of attorney, mutual wills and the future of any children of the relationship along with individual ownership of certain assets.