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Am I a Cohabitee or a Common Law Spouse?

View profile for Katie Phillips
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The concept of a ‘Common Law’ spouse is not a new one, but over the years the term has gone out of fashion so, I had believed the misconception was finally disappearing. I was therefore surprised to see the BBC using the term in their article about missing Carole Packman.

There is no legal concept of a common law husband or wife. Rather than repeat what has already been written, I would refer you to my colleague’s blog from February 2016. If you are not married and living with someone you do not acquire the same rights as a spouse, but there are situations when you may be able to make a claim against your partner if you are not married.

Whilst I am not frequently asked about rights as a common law spouse, I am noticing an increase in cohabitee disputes. There is also an increase in people entering into Cohabitee Agreements before they move in together. These can cover many factors, including what will happen to the property if there is a separation. I have seen these include provisions about who will pay the bills during the relationship and even what will happen with pets if there is a separation.

Whilst it is hoped a cohabiting couple will not need to rely on the Cohabitee Agreement, it ensures they both know where they stand should the relationship break down. Therefore, by having a Cohabitee Agreement this protects both parties’ positions, can specify whether (and when) a property should be sold and how the proceeds should be divided. This can help to reduce the conflict between the separating couple. I would therefore always advise couples to enter into a Cohabitee Agreement before moving in together, so each know where they stand.

If you would like any guidance on Cohabitee Agreements, or whether you have a right to your partners property in the event of a separation, please contact one of our family law advisors.