More and more people are choosing to cohabit without marrying. Our Family Finances Report found that 56% of cohabitees don’t think marriage is necessary, which shows the changing attitudes and lifestyles of today’s couples. This is a great option for many people, but it’s important to know your rights as there are some misconceptions around the topic. That’s why we’ve put together a guide to debunk the myths around living together and your rights.
You can be in a common law marriage
FALSE - One of the main areas of confusion when it comes to couples’ rights is the idea of common law marriage. Despite many people believing they’ll be granted common law status after a certain amount of time together, this is not the case – common law marriage doesn’t exist. So, whether you’re in the early stages of a relationship or you’ve been together decades, you’re not protected by the law.
Both people living in a rented property have the same rights
TRUE – Your tenancy rights won’t be affected regardless of your relationship status. The only time this is different is if you’re not both named tenants on the agreement, so it’s vital when you move in to make sure the two of you are equally included on this. As long as that’s the case, you’ll both have the same entitlements if one or both of you need to move out, and the same rules will apply in regarding notice periods, repairs, evictions and any other issues.
You must consult your partner if you sell your home
FALSE – Whoever the house belongs to is the one who decides who lives there if the cohabiting couple aren’t married. This means the owner can sell the house without their partner’s consideration, and can also ask them to leave if they wish. Exceptions to this include if you have a written agreement that the non-owner is paying into the mortgage and will get a share if it’s sold, or if there are children involved.
Possessions are divided evenly if you split
FALSE - Whereas if you were married you would likely create a “pot” of assets that would be divided if you divorced, this is not the case for unmarried couples. There is no obligation to financially support your partner, while still together or otherwise. So if you decide to separate you will have to re-divide your property based on who owned it before and who paid for it. If something was given to you by your partner as a gift, it belongs to you.
Each parent has equal rights if you have children
TRUE (WITH EXCEPTIONS)- According to the ONS, cohabiting couples with children are the fastest-growing family type, doubling from 1.5 million families in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2016. When children are involved, as long as you’re the parent or guardian you have more rights than you’d have in terms of property or money - but there are certain caveats. For example, it’s very important to register the child’s father on the birth certificate, as not doing so can limit how much of a say he can have on the religion, education, and health of the child.
Additionally, if you separate, the Children Act 1989 can mean that the home you shared will be transferred to the parent who cares for the child the majority of the time until they’re 18. This applies even if the house belongs to the other parent.
There are essentially very few protections afforded to unmarried couples if the worst should happen. This makes it even more important to have things in place such as life insurance (with your partner named as your beneficiary), a will, and potentially a cohabitation agreement if this works for you.
How to discuss finances with your partner
If you're not sure where to start when it comes to money and relationships, read our guide.
How to combine finances for couples
There are lots of ways you can manage your money with your partner. Find out how here.
Aviva Family Finances Report 2017