The 'Co-habitation Family' - What happens when the relationship breaks down?

Jennifer peebles portrait.

Jennifer Peebles


Phone 01264 325823


More and more couples are choosing to live together without having married. But not all fully understand the legal and practical implications. In particular, what happens if things go wrong?

Of course, things often go right; cohabitation is no more risky than marriage in that context. However, it does have one significant drawback: the law doesn’t recognise these partnerships in the same way as it does marriage. And while that might not matter too much when everything is going well, it can seriously affect what happens when the partners separate (or if one partner dies).

Clients who have split from their cohabitee often come to us expecting to automatically get a share of the house and at least fifty per cent of other assets of the relationship. They assume that, because they lived as a married couple (‘common law husband and wife’), the law will protect them. That isn’t the case.

While the law will ensure that children of the relationship are looked after in much the same way as if their parents had married, it’s the financial side of things – the assets and liabilities of the relationship – that are treated differently.

The imbalance is felt most strongly where one cohabiting partner has relied on the other. Perhaps there is one breadwinner. Perhaps the house is not in joint names. It’s a common scenario and one that will require proof of entitlement. That might be evidence of having chipped in with the property’s purchase price, or funded an extension, for example. Alternatively, they might be able to show that their partner had promised them a share of the property.

All of this can be fodder for legal arguments, and we always advise clients to avoid getting into that territory wherever possible. While people are sometimes forced to fight for their entitlements (and we help them do that), there are ways and means of resolving these sorts of cases between the parties  - and we help clients do that, too.

The best way of not getting caught up in a legal battle is to set out the terms of the arrangement at its outset. A cohabitation agreement may be unromantic, but it’s potentially crucial. By agreeing financial entitlements and other practical arrangements, cohabiting couples stand a better chance of steering clear of an embittered, expensive legal wrangle if the relationship were to end. 

Why not contact our dedicated family team today, to discuss your particular circumstances, tel: 01264 353411, email: or fill in the no obligation enquiry form on our website and we will be in touch shortly.








Go back

Expert Legal Support For All Your Legal Needs

Find out more about how we can help you in your circumstances by contacting us. You can call us on 01264 353411email us at or complete our online enquiry form.