Cohabitation Disputes

  • Home
  • /
  • Cohabitation Disputes

Resolving cohabiting relationship disputes is a lot more complicated than when married couples separate. “Cohabitation” in this context refers to people who are not officially married. There are different rules governing relationships in Wales, Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland, which complicates matters further.

Couples may experience disputes for a variety of reasons. These include issues surrounding child custody, financial support, or property ownership, as well as inheritance disagreements.

Individuals may need to enforce their rights through various legal proceedings. Dispute resolution is available to couples through mediation, arbitration, or the family court. 

Family lawyers can provide independent legal advice and support through mediation and arbitration, and if these fail, then a family law specialist will try and negotiate a settlement for you or represent you in court.

What is a cohabitation dispute?

Two parties refer to legal disagreements as cohabitation disputes when they are:

  • In a romantic relationship and live together or used to live together, but are not officially married and have never been officially married.
  • Not romantically involved or in a relationship with each other but do live together or used to live together.
  • Cohabitation disagreements can occur between couples with or without children. The couple must share property or financial obligations.

Cohabitation disputes usually occur when a couple separate. They can also arise between cohabiting couples when they are still living under the same roof.

Friends or family members who live with the couple may also be a party to cohabitation disputes. They therefore also fall under the provisions of family law.

Is cohabitation legally binding?

Cohabitation is not considered legally binding in terms of family law. It differs in this respect from a civil partnership or marriage.

Unmarried couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples or those in a civil partnership.

However, there are various legal protections in place for cohabiting couples. Legal experts recommend that couples who live together sign a cohabitation agreement. This helps to avoid confusion over rights and responsibilities.

What is a cohabitation agreement?

Unmarried couples living together in the UK may sign a cohabitation agreement. It stipulates their legal responsibilities to each other.

Should the couple break up, or either party becomes ill or dies, the agreement covers what happens to their finances and property. If they have children, then they may also wish to enter into a Parenting Agreement to detail issues regarding the children’s welfare and living arrangements.

Couples should obtain assistance and advice from a specialised family law solicitor to ensure that the cohabitation agreement is legally binding – we can help with this. 

The team at VM Family Law can also help if you have a cohabitation agreement in place – we can refer to this during a dispute in order to settle your case.

What are cohabitation rights?

Unmarried couples don’t enjoy the automatic legal rights and responsibilities as those who are married.

Cohabiting couples can make certain claims under the law in relation to shared property, as well as for financial support. They are also subject to domestic abuse law protection.

Common law marriage however, is not recognised in England and Wales, regardless of the relationship’s duration or if there are children involved. There is no automatic right to remain in their home, should it belong solely to one party. The non-owner partner may not have a claim over the property – this is despite contributing to mortgage payments or household expenses.

They may, however, demonstrate that they have made significant contributions to the household during the relationship based on discussions between the parties that both parties would own the property. However, if they fail to prove that this is the case, then the court will not find in their favour in the event of a dispute. This is a very complex area of law and specialist legal advice should always be sought.

Neither party may claim financial support or maintenance when the relationship breaks down, but children receive the same treatment as those with married parents or civil partners, as a parent who does not live with their child is required to pay child maintenance to the parent with whom the child lives.

Do unmarried couples have common law rights when splitting up?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no legal basis for the term “common law marriage” in England and Wales. It may come as a shock to some that unmarried couples do not automatically have legal rights when they split up regardless of the length of their relationship.

However, there are legal rights in relation to property, financial support and the children whose parents are not married. These rights will depend on the circumstances surrounding their relationship.

You can speak to our team to learn more about your rights as a cohabiting partner or former cohabiting partner.

Cohabitation dispute with an ex-partner

Should you have a dispute with an ex-partner, it can be a complex and emotionally charged undertaking.

It is common for disputes to arise over financial contributions and responsibilities, child custody and child support. Couples also dispute property ownership and a variety of other issues.

It is important in these circumstances to seek legal advice as early as possible. This will help to avoid further conflict and ensure that the parties involved obtain the best possible outcome for their circumstances.

Cohabitation dispute with family or friends

It is quite common for cohabitation disputes to arise within families and friends as the same issues and laws apply to people who have lived together, regardless of whether they were romantically involved or not.

Cohabitation disputes with children involved

The most emotionally charged disputes usually involve children. It is unsurprising that these can be particularly challenging to resolve equitably. Throughout the process, it is necessary to protect the rights of the child or children, and the couple involved.

The most common disputes surrounding children involve child custody and access and the child’s right to have a relationship with both their parents, provided it is safe to do so and regardless of whether a couple were married or unmarried.

Cohabitation dispute resolution services 

There are a variety of cohabitation dispute services open to couples involved in a dispute. These include mediation, collaborative law, round table meetings and arbitration. 

At VM Family Law, we are experts in dealing with cohabitation disputes, and can work with an individual to find the most amicable resolution.