Every couple, including same sex couples, who are thinking of living together (cohabiting) should take legal advice before doing so.
Many people mistakenly think that by cohabiting, they acquire legal rights such as becoming a “common-law wife”. However, this is a misconception, as English Law does not recognise this concept.
Although the issues that arise on the breakdown of a cohabiting couple’s relationship are similar to those on marriage breakdown, the law does not provide the same legal remedies. For example, cohabitees are not entitled to ask for maintenance from each other nor are they entitled to a financial settlement under which assets can be transferred between them. Cohabitees have to fall back on trust and property law to resolve disputes between them over property, which can be complex and unsatisfactory.
For these reasons, it is crucial for couples contemplating cohabitation to take preventative legal advice before they do so.
There is some financial protection for the children of such couples. The Child Support Agency will assess child support for children, whether their parents are married or not. Furthermore, under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, the Courts also have power to make financial settlements for the maintenance and housing of children.