The number of cohabitating couples is on the rise

The number of cohabitating couples is on the rise

The ONS (Office of National Statistics) completes UK-wide survey every year. The survey covers a range of demographics including living arrangements.

The 2017 survey highlighted that cohabitating couples (couples who live together but are not married) were the fastest growing family type, and the 2018 report confirmed that the cohabitating couple were the second largest family type in the UK. The number of cohabitating couples grew by 3.4 million people from 2017 to 2018.

Legal rights for unmarried couples

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’. This means cohabitants do not have the same legal protection as married couples or civil partners, and they have limited financial responsibility to each other, should they separate.

Therefore, when cohabitants are buying a house together they should carefully consider how they want to deal with their finances going forward and, if the relationship comes to an end, how the assets should be divided.

By dealing with matters at the time you purchase the property (or move into a property already owned by your new partner) you may be saving yourselves both heartache and money if the relationship later breaks down.

Property rights

Joint owners may own a property as either:

  • joint tenants, or
  • tenants in common

Joint tenants

If you own the property as joint tenants, you will each have separate rights and interests in the property.  Should one of the joint tenants die their interest in the property will pass automatically to the surviving joint tenant on death, regardless of what is stated in the deceased person’s Will.

If you and your cohabitant separate the presumption is that the property is owned on a 50/50 basis regardless of the financial contribution you each made to the purchase of the property or during its ownership.

Tenants in common

Tenants in common each own their interests in distinct shares. Therefore, the tenants in common can, if they so wish, own the property in different shares.  So if one party puts more money into the property than the other it can be agreed that they are to have a greater share.

The other main difference between a joint tenant and a tenant in common is that a tenant in common can dispose of their interest in the property either on death or during their lifetime without affecting the interest of the other co-owners.

Sole Ownership

Disputes regarding interests in property often arise where a property is solely owned by one cohabitant.  If it is intended that the non-owning cohabitant is to have a financial interest in the property, it is always best for this to be recorded in writing in a Deed of Trust.

If there is no Deed of Trust it can be extremely difficult for the non-owning cohabitant to later establish that they should have any claim against the property.

Cohabitation Agreements & Deeds of Trust

Cohabitants should consider entering into both a cohabitation agreement and a Deed of Trust.

A cohabitation agreement is a written document, often signed as a deed in front of witnesses.  It generally deals with

  • who owns what and in what proportions;
  • what financial arrangements you have decided to make while you are living together, and
  • how property, assets and income should be divided if you should split up.

As mentioned above, a Deed of Trust can cover the situation where one party is the sole legal owner but it is agreed that the other cohabitant is to have a financial interest in the property or (more usually) where the parties are joint legal owners but they intend to their ownership to be unequal.

Formalising the financial arrangements will give both new and existing cohabitating couples peace of mind, enabling them to build a life together based on mutual understanding and trust.

You can make a cohabitation agreement or enter a Deed of Trust at any time, whether you are about to start living together or if you have been doing so for many years.

If you’d like to find out more about Deeds of Trust and cohabitation agreements, please contact a member of our family law team today on 01296 318 500 or email