Cohabiting couples are the UK’s fastest growing family type.

According to the ONS, numbers have more than doubled from 1.5 million to 3.3 million over the last 20 years. However legally, cohabiting couples’ rights still cause confusion.

Here is what you need to know if you choose not to get married and live together instead:

There is no such thing as a common law marriage:

The Cohabitation Rights Bill is still on a very slow journey through the House of Lords. If it goes through, it will establish rights and responsibilities for cohabitants and provide basic protections if couples stop living together or if there is a death, and also for life insurance purposes.

Under the current proposals, the court could make financial settlement orders similar to those for married couples relating to property and pensions as well as lump sum orders.

Cohabiting couples’ rights differ hugely compared to those who are married if you choose to separate:

Until and if the Cohabitation Rights Bill is passed, unmarried couples have very limited legal rights.

This can have serious financial consequences. In terms of property, one party could be left with nothing unless an express agreement, such as a cohabitation agreement or a declaration of trust, is in place relating to the ownership of property.

Maintenance rights are also affected. Unlike married couples, a cohabitee could only claim maintenance to support children that they had together, and not for themselves.

Cohabitees can avoid complex and expensive litigation:

Cohabitee disputes can be complex as many rely on complex trust law. To help avoid this potentially expensive litigation, take these steps:

1. Compile a living together agreement setting out important factors such as:

  • Who owns what and in what proportions
  • Future intentions for ownership
  • Contributions being made to household or property and the difference, if any, that it makes to ownership
  • Use and occupation of property
  • What is to happen if you separate – say if one party remains in the house with children
  • Triggers to review the arrangements such as the birth of a child, engagement or sale of property
  • Position in the event of death

2. Create a Will

3. Carry out pension planning

4. Consider tax implications upon death and transfer of assets.