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

Oluwapelumi (Amanda) Adeola


Oluwapelumi (Amanda) Adeola specialises in private Family Law. She moved to the Northeast from London after completing her Legal Practice Course and trained…

Andrea Hewitson


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Alex Clancy

Senior Associate

Alex began her career as a Family Law Clerk at Watson Woodhouse Solicitors after graduating from Teesside University in 2004. She spent her first year…

Cheryl Whyte

Senior Associate

Cheryl joined BHP Law in January 2023 as a Senior Associate to help expand the public aspect of the firms growing Family team. Cheryl qualified…

Charlotte Brown


Charlotte joined BHP Law in February 2024 as an Associate Solicitor to help expand the child law aspect of the firm’s growing family team. Charlotte…

Maariyah Zaman


Maariyah is a newly qualified Solicitor specialising in Family Law, predominantly public children law. Maariyah started her career as a legal secretary…

Nicole Shaw

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Nicole joined BHP Law in January 2023 as a Trainee Solicitor having worked at VCW Law for nearly five years within the Family Department. Nicole commenced…

Gillian Mitchell

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With over 20 years experience as a Chartered Legal Executive specialising in Family Law, Gillian joined BHP Law's family team in October 2020 bringing…

Leanne Walker

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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…

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