There is a myth in the UK, that when a couple live together for a period of time, they enter into a “common law marriage”. The reality is that there are no legal rights for couples who separate, when they are not married or in a Civil Partnership.

There are options for couples in this scenario under the complex rules surrounding property and trust law as briefly outlined below. For a more comprehensive insight into the challenges around cohabitation and separation, please contact one of our specialist team as listed below and who will be happy to help.

Same sex couples

Where a couple have entered into a Civil Partnership, there will be rights similar to those that apply to married couples upon separation. Where there is no formal partnership in place, the same principles apply in relation to property and trust law as detailed below.


One of the key areas of concern when a couple separate is the family home. The decision over who will retain residence, or even ownership of the home is complex and will depend largely on how the home is owned. In some cases it is possible to claim a share of the property even where you are not the owner (or joint) owner where a financial contribution can be proven, however the law in this area is complex.

Maintenance and provision for children

Couples who are not married, or in a Civil Partnership, cannot claim maintenance from their former partner.

Where children are involved, the primary carer may claim maintenance costs from the other party. In most cases, the application for maintenance should be made to the Child Support Agency. If for example, the non-resident parent is living outside the UK, an application can be made to the Court under the Children Act 1989. It is also possible for the primary carer to make a claim for a lump sum payment to help with the child-related costs, or to claim for the transfer of a property to the primary carer until the child reaches 18 years old or has completed full-time education.

Inheritance and pensions

If your partner dies without making a Will, you will not automatically inherit any part of their estate (as would be the case if you were married or in a Civil Partnership). It is therefore vital for cohabitants to make Wills reflecting their intentions. The same applies to Pensions. Whilst married couples may receive benefits on the death of a spouse, this is unlikely to be the case for unmarried couples unless a specific nomination has been made.

Get in touch

Want to know more about Family Law? Get in touch and speak to one of our team.