People often refer to a partner with whom they have been living together for a long time as their 'common law' husband or wife.

There is in fact, no such legal status. The law refers to this sort of relationship as 'cohabitation'.

When cohabitees separate, it can be just as painful as when a marriage breaks down. There are many of the same problems - how to sort out the finances and resolve issues surrounding the children. It is important to be aware of your cohabitation rights.

Cohabitation Rights - Children

Married couples automatically have equal parental rights for their children but a cohabiting couple do not. Father's only have rights if:

  • the child was born on or after 5th December 2003 and his name is on the birth certificate; or
  • the mother has entered into a parental responsibility agreement with him; or
  • the Court has made an order for parental responsibility.

The Court can make exactly the same Orders for residence and contact in relation to the children of cohabitees as they can for married couples.

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Cohabitation Rights - Finances

There is no automatic right to a share of assets that are held in a partner's sole name. The only way you can obtain ownership of assets that are in your partner's sole name is by showing you made a contribution towards their purchase or after they were bought. For example, did you give your partner the money he used to buy his car, or did you pay for the new roof on her property?  If you did, you may be able to show that you deserve a share in that asset.

Cohabitation Rights - Maintenance

Generally when cohabitees separate, neither party is entitled to receive or obliged to pay maintenance except for the benefit of the children. If agreement can't be reached over payment of child maintenance then an application to the Child Maintenance Service may have to be made. There are exceptions to the general rule, but this would need to be discussed with the client as further information would need to be gathered.

If you would like to have a chat about your options or how we may be able to help you please contact a member of the team, complete our call back form or contact us directly at your local office.

Your Family Law Team

Amanda Adeola


Amanda has worked in the North Eastern Circuit since qualifying as a solicitor. She trained and worked with two law firms in Darlington before moving…

Andrea Hewitson


Andrea took her law degree at Northumbria University and went on to study for the solicitors exams at Chester Law School. Andrea joined Harvey &…

Leanne Walker

Trainee Legal Executive

Leanne made the change from the procurement sector to law, having completed her part-time Open University law degree with upper second class honours in…

Gillian Mitchell

Chartered Legal Executive

Gillian joined BHP Law's family team in October 2020 as a Chartered Legal Executive. In 2013, Gillian achieved accredited status with Resolution in complex…

Jack Collins

Apprentice Solicitor

Jack joined BHP in September 2020 as an apprentice solicitor in our family team, alongside studying at Northumbria University one day per week. …

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