Recent research by Family Law Organisation Resolution has shown that two thirds of unmarried cohabiting couples still believe that the “common law marriage” exists. This is unfortunately not the case, meaning that over one million cohabiting couples mistakenly believe that they have the same rights as if they were married.

The cohabiting couple is the second largest family type. It is also the fastest growing. In 1996 there were an estimated 1.5 million cohabiting couples; in 2017 this increased to 3.3 million.

There has been a lot of media attention over recent years about implementing changes to the law and protecting the rights of cohabitants, and as a result many people believe that the law has already changed.

Unfortunately however there remains very little recourse for cohabiting couples unless they actively take steps to protect themselves.

In particular, on separation a cohabitant may find themselves without rights over the property in which they live, even if they have lived there for a number of years. A cohabitant does also not have any rights to claims against an ex partner’s pension or claim maintenance for themselves.

This does not however mean that you have to get married in order to safeguard yourself.

It is always better to discuss your financial position whilst you are on good terms with your partner and if possible before or early into cohabiting.

You may wish to enter into a living together or cohabitation agreement to set out how the household will be funded, clarify each party’s financial responsibilities and agree what should happen in the event of a separation. If you have started cohabiting you can still enter into a living together agreement to protect your financial position in the future.

A living together agreement is particularly necessary if you are going to cohabit in a property which will legally held in the name of only one party. If it is agreed that the other party is to acquire an interest in the property this can be clearly recorded in a Declaration of Trust. This is also essential if you are purchasing a property jointly but one party is going to make a greater financial contribution to the purchase price.

You should also consider whether you wish to make any provision for your partner on death, and if so this should be clarified within your Will.

If you have been cohabiting and have separated or are thinking of separating, then it is important to obtain legal advice in order to establish the options available to you so that you can understand if there are any claims that you could bring and the procedure, timescales and costs of doing so.