Separating when cohabiting

Separating when cohabiting

29th March 2021

Here is some information to help cohabiting couples who are planning to separate. Whilst some issues are the same as for married couples, there are some differences to be aware of.

Some cohabiting couples may well have a cohabitation agreement which sets out rights and obligations to each other, covering such things as  arrangements regarding children, the home, possessions  etc. This may not always be legally enforceable  so do seek legal advice on the status of such an agreement.


What happens about children?

An unmarried mother is  usually automatically assumed to have  parental rights and responsibilities,  whilst an unmarried father does not have these even if he has been living with the mother. He has them if he jointly registered the birth , acquired them from a court or through a signed agreement with the mother.    Both parents do have a duty to provide financial support for a child,even if not living together. As with married couples, it is in everyone’s interests if an agreement can be reached amicably to cover access and maintenance arrangements. Guidance can be obtained from Child Maintenance Options on 0800 083 4375


What about money for us?

Whilst married couples have a legal obligation to maintain each other on separation, this does not apply to cohabiting couples.  One partner can apply to a court for a limited financial settlement from the ex-cohabitee, though this must be done within a year of the separation.  This can be done by same sex partners as well as ones of the opposite sex.  A court would look to see if one partner had been financially disadvantaged as a result of decisions taken whilst together. For example, one partner may have given up a career to bring up children, or may have sold property to move in with a partner and some of the sale proceeds may have been used on joint living expenses.

If a partner has been financially dependent on the other, it would be good to get any entitlement to benefits checked with us.


What happens about the house?

If you are in a private or a council tenancy, a partner who is not the actual tenant has no right to remain if the tenant withdraws permission, which is different from married couples. If the sole tenant leaves, the other partner has no right to stay, unless a court has granted permission prior to the sole remnant leaving.  Partners with joint tenancies both have the right to remain.

If the house is owned, a partner can only remain if they have joint ownership or the owning partner agrees. With joint ownership, both partners have equal rights and can’t force the other out.  A non-owning partner can’t stop a sale of the property and is not entitled to a share of any proceeds, unless they can prove that they made a financial contribution.

Again, a benefit entitlement check may be a good idea if there is a change in living arrangements, so do please contact us.



There is a lot of detail not covered here, so do please contact us if you would like fuller advice.