Unless specified, this information relates only to England and Wales. If you live in Scotland, go to Parenting across Scotland for information and advice. If you live in Northern Ireland, go to NI direct.

Legal differences between Common Law/Cohabitation and Civil Partnership/Marriage

Living together for a long time and/or having children does not give you the same ‘rights’ as a married couple or civil partnership if your relationship breaks down. It is important for you to know that there is no legal status for cohabiting couples and there is no such thing as a common law wife or husband.

If you have a “cohabitation contract” you may have more legal standing. This type of contract sets out certain rights and responsibilities in the relationship and so helps to assign accountability. You can also create legally enforceable agreements on certain matters, but it is important to get legal advice on this.

Common law rights and cohabitation rights is a complicated area of law and depends on a lot of different circumstances. For example, whether or not you own your property jointly, whether your name was on a tenancy agreement or mortgage or title deeds and whether you contributed to buying the house or to the mortgage payments or rent.

If you are a cohabiting couple and you have children, you can seek child maintenance and may be able to claim for other payments for your child.

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