Common Law Partners: Legal Status & Rights

25 Mar 2019 | Lisa Pepper
couple

Table of Contents

Understanding the Legal Status of a Common Law Partner in England

Although many people may consider themselves as a ‘common law partner’ if not married to their partner, in reality, and from the viewpoint of the courts in England, there is no such thing as a common law partner, common law wife or husband. And it doesn’t matter how long the couple has lived together.

To avoid confusion by using the terms common law partner, common law wife or husband, we refer to them as cohabitees, cohabiting couples and unmarried couples – people who live together but have not formalised their relationship by getting married or entering a civil partnership.

Unlike married couples, for whom there are clear laws to follow when seeking a divorce or separation, the law relating to cohabitees when they separate are far from clear and frequently not as helpful to the financially weaker party.

Issues Upon Separation for Cohabiting Couples

Issues concerning a cohabiting couple upon separating include those relating to children, where and with whom they will live, financial provisions for the children, and finances and assets between the individuals, in particular how they will both find somewhere suitable to live.

Parental Rights and Responsibilities

When a child is born to an unmarried couple, the rights and responsibilities automatically belong only to the mother. The father will only automatically be presumed to have such parental rights and responsibilities if he has been named on the child’s birth certificate.

Financial and Property Considerations

The law relating to a cohabiting couple’s finances and property assets is very different from the rules relating to the finances of a married couple. In general, the Courts will try and clarify who owns what property or whether either or both parties have contributed to the ownership of an item of property so that they are deemed to have a “beneficial interest” in the property. Unlike when married couples divorce, cohabitees are not entitled to pay or receive maintenance to each other except for the benefit of children. However, in high net worth cases, a carer’s allowance might still be considered.

Child Support and Maintenance

In many cases, when a cohabiting couple separates, an application to the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’ previously the CSA) is made to ensure that both parents continue supporting children.

In some circumstances, even when a parent has little income, if they have capital, the CMS can take this into account. See Child Maintenance: When is capital, income?

In some cases where for example, the parent who is not living with a child has a particularly high salary, the Court may make an additional child maintenance award (a ‘top up order’) over and above the amount the CMS has awarded. See Child Maintenance for High Earners.

The court will also consider whether or not it will benefit the child to award a lump sum payment and whether funds should be made available to provide adequate housing for the child.

How we can help

If you are in a cohabiting relationship and need legal advice on your rights and obligations, contact our experienced family lawyers today. We can help you navigate the complexities of cohabitation law and ensure that your interests are protected.

To speak with one of our solicitors, contact us by:

  • Filling in our online enquiry form; or
  • Calling us on 020 7485 8811

Share this article

Contact

Contact us today

For a free initial conversation call 020 7485 8811

Email us Send us an email and we’ll get back to you






    Related InsightsVIEW ALL

    1. two children in the woods
      11.7.2024

      Unmarried With Children and Splitting Up

      Unmarried with Children? What are your Financial Rights? Know Your Financial Rights Under Schedule One Children Act 1989 A claim under...

      Read more
    2. Living together
      3.5.2024

      My Partner Owns The House. What Rights Do...

      What are my rights if my partner owns the house and we are unmarried? There is no automatic right to...

      Read more
    3. House-Finsbury-Park
      19.5.2023

      Declaration of Trust for Property

      If you are buying a property jointly, you may want to consider making a declaration of trust to record your...

      Read more
    4. cohabitation agreement
      22.3.2023

      Cohabitation agreement solicitors

      Unmarried couples who live together do not have the same legal protection as married couples and civil partners when they...

      Read more
    5. little venice in London
      8.2.2023

      Severance of a Joint Tenancy

      Severing a Joint Tenancy Normally, when couples buy a property together they do so as joint tenants. This means they...

      Read more
    6. camden lock
      8.2.2023

      Tenants in Common vs Joint Tenants

      Tenants in Common vs Joint Tenants: Which is best for buying a property together? When buying a property with someone...

      Read more
    7. london property
      9.6.2022

      TOLATA Claims

      What are trusts of land? Property ownership is not always a straightforward legal issue, particularly where the parties are cohabitees...

      Read more
    8. hampstead house
      25.3.2019

      Financial Rights of Cohabiting Couples: Case Law

      Introduction to Gow v Grant [2012] UKSC 29 Gow v Grant [2012] UKSC 29 is a decision of the Supreme Court dealing with the...

      Read more
    9. flats in camden
      25.3.2019

      Do You Pay Child Maintenance if Your Ex...

      Does cohabiting with a new partner affect child support? – Case Law The case X v Y (Maintenance Arrears: Cohabitation) (2012) considered...

      Read more

    VIEW ALL

    Accreditations

    • Times best law firm 2024
    • Spears 500 logo
    • Resolution-Collaborative-logo
    • resolution logo
    • Resolution-mediator-logo
    • legal 500 leading firm
    • chambers logo
    • Lisa Pepper – one of the best mediators around, whose very reasonable rates don’t reflect her excellent client base

      Legal 500 2024

    • Lisa Pepper is a great go-to solicitor for anyone wanting quick and appropriate advice

      Legal 500 2024

    • Lisa Pepper at Osbornes is hugely approachable. She is calm, clients always praise her. Underneath her calm and approachable exterior is an excellent legal brain

      Legal 500 2024

    • I am confident that Lisa will do her utmost to try and settle matters so that both parties walk away feeling satisfied that they have managed to reach a fair outcome with the assistance of a professional mediator.

      Legal 500 2024

    • Lisa Pepper is robust, competent and knowledgeable and is always keen to try and help parties settle without intervention of the court.

      Legal 500 2024

    • Lisa Pepper is an outstanding mediator. She gets results in very difficult cases. She works extremely hard to get a good outcome for clients who mediate with her

      Legal 500 2024

    • Lisa Pepper- she has a great combination of skills. She is empathetic, approachable and calm, and has good legal judgment. She inspires confidence and trust

      Legal 500 2024

    • Lisa Pepper is particularly recognised for her role as a mediator in complex cross-border disputes. Her practice also includes handling prenuptial agreements and issues arising from divorces. She is additionally skilled in Schedule 1 and other child arrangement matters.

      Chambers UK 2023

    • "Lisa Pepper is good at making herself available to clients and has a real focus on finding pragmatic solutions."

      Legal 500 2023

    • "Lisa Pepper is a complete all rounder. Her mediation skills are second to none. She is kind and compassionate and knows the law inside out!."

      Legal 500 2023

    • "Lisa Pepper is ‘compassionate, supportive and committed to hear clients, with a very warm manner."

      Legal 500 2023

    • "Lisa Pepper is fantastic. She goes the extra mile for her clients and is a superb mediator."

      Legal 500 2023

    • Lisa Pepper is a skilled collaborative lawyer. Her instinct is always to resolve matters without compromising her clients’ interests.

      Legal 500

    • Lisa Pepper is a noted collaborative lawyer, and recently acted successfully on a client's leave to remove application to Australia.

      Legal 500