Cohabiting Couples

Cohabiting Couples

Published: 27 April 2015

What Happens When the Passion Fizzles Out?

It is estimated that the number of couples living together without getting married in the UK has risen by approximately 30% in the last decade.

Despite this significant trend and change in modern society there is still no legislative protection available to cohabitees (especially in relation to their personal finances) if the relationship comes to an end.

With over six million people cohabiting in the UK at present, this leaves many people in a vulnerable and exposed position financially if their ex partner refuses to agree to a fair and reasonable financial settlement when they break up. 

Both The Law Commission and the Supreme Court have made known their recommendations in favour of parliamentary intervention and legislation at various stages over the last decade

With the General Election imminent in a couple of weeks, it sadly appears that none of the major political parties have raised this issue for debate in their manifestos either.  In contrast, our neighbours north of the border in Scotland have their own cohabitant law.

It is, nonetheless, important to point out that any new law for cohabitees would probably be unable to provide the same degree of financial protection available to married couples divorcing.  This would be a significant factor for people left in a vulnerable situation with regards to property rights, maintenance and pension payments once their partners have abandoned them. However, such a law would put ex cohabitees in a better position than they are currently.

As the law stands no legal relationship has arisen between cohabiting couples because no marriage has taken place.  This leaves them unprotected. A recent family law case  Graham York v York  has confirmed that the length and duration of the relationship and cohabitation will have minimal effect upon the couple’s rights following the break up..

So, as a cohabitee,  what can you do when the love and romance disappears, you can’t live under the same roof and you don’t have a wedding ring?

A practical and useful step legally would be for the couple to enter into a Declaration of Trust.  This can be used to address key issues such as agreeing upon division of property rights and clarifying your rights of ownership in respect of assets in the event of break up or death.  This would take into consideration the potential economic loss that may be suffered by a person who was perhaps entirely financially dependent upon their partner.

Naturally, as with Prenuptial agreements this is hardly a romantic step to take at the start of a relationship, but neither is purchasing insurance when you buy a new car..  Yet, we all know that prevention is far better than a painful and lengthy cure.

It is also very important that cohabiting couples consider formalising their paperwork, especially in relation to making Wills given the significant tax disadvantages affecting cohabitation.  See our article "Where there’s a Will" for further information.

Such steps are also of paramount importance if there are any children involved in the relationship too.

In conclusion, whatever the moral or legal stance is on the issue of cohabitation, it is certainly a growing feature of our modern lifestyles.  And it may be worth planning ahead in case you end up with the dying ashes and embers of those flames of passion that once burnt so brightly.

For more advice and information, please contact Eugene Fan  -  Solicitor in our Family Law Team.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.