Legal Q&A: Cohabiting Couples and Married Couples

Q. My partner and I now own a house together and are cohabiting but we are not married, are we treated the same as married couples? 

A. The simple answer to this question is no, unfortunately not. The Court has much wider discretion to assist separating married couples than unmarried couples thanks to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. For cohabiting couples, if you wish to determine how your assets are to be treated if your relationship breaks down, you would need a Cohabitation Agreement.  For cohabiting couples, if a dispute arises when your relationship breaks down, it is generally governed by civil law.

The largest asset you are likely to own is your home which would be dealt with under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, known as “TLATA” and the outcome is generally based on what was originally agreed between you, subject to some complex exceptions. Unmarried couples are also treated very differently to married couples under the law when one of the parties dies, for example, cohabiting couples do not automatically become entitled to the other’s estate by virtue of living together. This is unlike those who are married who, by virtue of the legal status of marriage, are so entitled. You can address this though by having Wills drawn up appointing each other as beneficiaries. 

If you would like further advice, please contact Chris Brown at Hegarty Solicitors on 01733 295 627 or email chris.brown@hegarty.co.uk.