The Taylor&Emmet Blog

Cohabiting Couples: A worked example

Cohabitation Awareness Week Are you part of an unmarried couple who live together? Do you believe you have the same rights as your married counterparts?

If so, you are not alone. There are 3.3 million cohabiting families in this country and the number continues to rise year on year. We are supporting Cohabitation Awareness Week to highlight the lack of protection the law currently offers to unmarried couples and campaign for change.

Having practised family law for 29 years, I know many cohabitees believe living together for a lengthy period gives them rights as ‘common law’ husband or wife. They are wrong!

Let’s say Jane and John are separating after a 20 year relationship. To demonstrate how differently the law treats cohabitation, I will answer Jane’s questions as if they married and cohabiting.

Am I entitled to make a claim for part of John’s pension?

Married: Yes

Unmarried: No – you have no rights to John’s pension, no matter how long you have lived together.

I gave up my career to raise our children and now don’t earn very much. I know John has to pay child maintenance, but can I claim financial support for myself?

Married: Yes – you can ask a court to consider making an order for what we call spousal maintenance, which will be an income that reflects the fact you compromised your career to raise a family.

Unmarried: No – irrespective of how long you lived together and any decisions made during your relationship, you are not entitled to pursue an income from John for yourself. Despite sacrificing your career to raise a family and support John, you have no spousal maintenance rights.

My name was never put on the deeds to our house – it is in John’s name solely. I couldn’t make any financial contribution towards it, as I wasn’t able to, but am I entitled to a share of the property?

Married: Yes – it is irrelevant that the property is in John’s sole name. If it is the family home you shared as a couple, then you would be entitled to a proportion of its value.

Unmarried: Probably not – claiming an interest in a property owned in the sole name of your partner is extremely difficult if you have made no direct contribution to the mortgage or deposit. Simply paying for food, family holidays or utility bills, for example, does not give you any legal rights. This is a complex area of law and many cohabiting partners find themselves homeless in the event of a relationship breakdown.

If John dies, will I automatically inherit from him?

Married: Yes – as his surviving partner, you would automatically have inheritance rights, unless he made a will to the contrary.

Unmarried: No – as his surviving cohabitee, you have no automatic rights of inheritance.

Michaela Heathcote
Michaela Heathcote


If you have questions about any of topics raised here, don’t hesitate to contact our family law team on (0114) 218 4000 or email

Michaela Evans

Michaela Evans is head of our matrimonial team. Michaela deals mainly with matters arising from family breakdowns, particularly those relating to finances and arrangements for children following separation or divorce. She also has a growing number of international cases. For more information on this topic email or call her on 0114 218 4000.

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