The Office of National Statistics reveals that over the last decade the number of cohabiting couple families has grown faster than married couple or lone parent families, with an increase of 25.8% from 2008 to 2018.

Despite this growth the law remains ‘behind the times’ and it is still the case that cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as married couples.

The rights of unmarried couples and married couples differ in a number of ways on separation and on death.

An unmarried partner who stays at home to care for children cannot make any claims in their own right for property, maintenance or pension-sharing on separation. Whereas married couples are able to make a claim against all of their spouse’s assets, savings, pensions, and for maintenance payments for themselves. This is because cohabiting couples are not legally obliged to support each other financially, but married partners have a legal duty to do so.

If you are unmarried and live in a home owned by your partner and you are asked to leave, you have no right to stay in that accommodation. If you are married, a spouse has the right to stay in the ‘matrimonial home’.

On death, if there is no Will, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything – unless the couple jointly own property. A married partner would inherit all or some of the estate. Additionally, cohabiting partners cannot access their partner’s bank account if they die – whereas married couples may be allowed to withdraw the balance providing the amount is small.

It is important to ensure that you have legal protection.

If you require advice with regard to your specific rights, or in relation to a separation or estate planning, contact us on 0845 287 0939 or send us your enquiry through our online contact form.