Couples living together do not, unfortunately, share the same rights as married couples or civil partners, regardless of how long they have been together, and whether they have children. If you are considering moving in with someone, our specialist family law solicitors can offer you personalised advice on your rights and obligations, together with guidance on how to protect your interests, for example by setting up a cohabitation agreement.

There is plenty more information on the subject of cohabitation on our dedicated page where you’ll also discover how we can assist you as a non-married partner.

Statutory and other definitions of cohabitation

There are various and varying definitions of cohabitation within the legislation. In addition, the Law Commission, in its report ‘Cohabitation—the financial consequences of relationship breakdown (Law Com No 307)’, provided further recommendations as to the definition of cohabitation for proposed legislation (which was not acted upon by the government). That report was followed by Lord Lester’s unsuccessful Cohabitation Bill

Statutory definitions

Examples of statutory definitions of cohabitation include:

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the meaning of ‘cohabitants’ is defined in section 62(1)(a) of the Family Law Act 1996 as ‘two persons who are neither married to each other nor civil partners of each other but are living together as husband and wife or as if they were civil partners’

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references to whether a couple are living in the same household, eg sections 1(1A) and 1(1B) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 regarding eligibility to apply under that Act, which includes references to living ‘as the husband or wife of the deceased’ or ‘as the civil partner of the deceased’

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section 144(4) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 in which ‘a couple’ is defined as a married couple, two people who are civil partners of each other, or two people (whether of different sexes or the same sex) living as partners in an enduring family relationship

The Law Commission recommendations

The Law Commission’s recommendations in its report Cohabitation—the financial consequences of relationship breakdown (Law Com No 307) were that any legislation as to financial provision on relationship breakdown should only apply to cohabit couples who have:

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had a child together, or

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cohabited for a specified period (the Law Commission suggested between two and five years, but made no firm recommendation on the issue)

In addition, the Law Commission’s recommendations include an opt-out scheme and a requirement for the applicant to show a qualifying contribution ie that the respondent retained a benefit and/or the applicant had a continuing economic disadvantage as a result of contributions made to the relationship.

For further information, see:

Butterworths Family Law Service > Relationships and their Breakdown > 1A Narrative > Chapter 7 Cohabitation paras [3001]–[3001.1]

Cohabitation Bills

In 2008, in response to the government’s lack of action following the Commission’s report, Lord Lester (working in conjunction with Resolution) presented a private members’ Cohabitation Bill into the House of Lords which contained recommendations similar to those of the Law Commission, but with firmer definitions of cohabitation as follows:

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for two people who live together as a couple for a minimum of two years, or who have a child together, to have the right to apply for certain financial orders if they separate: this right to be automatic unless the couple choose to opt-out

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for couples already living together to be protected if they separate provided they have been living together for a minimum of two years or have a child together

The Bill failed to progress beyond the committee stage in 2009.

A private members’ Bill, now the Cohabitation Rights Bill 2017–19, was subsequently presented by Lord Marks of Henley on the Thames. Described as a Bill to provide certain protections for persons who live together as a couple, or have lived together as a couple, and to make provision about the property of deceased persons who are survived by a cohabitant, the Bill defines ‘cohabitation’ as any two people (whether of the same sex or the opposite sex) who:

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live together as a couple, and

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that any of the following apply (where the couple is A and B):

A and B are each treated in law as being mother, father or parent of the same minor child

a joint residence order in favour of A and B is in force in respect of a minor child

A and B are the natural parents of a child en ventre sa mere at the date when A and B cease to live together as a couple (whether or not that child is subsequently born alive), or

A and B have lived together as a couple for a continuous period of three years or more

In addition that:

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the couple are neither married to each other nor civil partners of each other, and

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are not within prohibited degrees of relationship in relation to each other

The Bill provides that for the purposes determining the length of the continuous period during which two people have lived together as a couple:

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any period of the relationship that fell before the commencement date is to be taken into account, but

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any one or more periods (not exceeding six months in all) during which the parties ceased living together as a couple is to be disregarded

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