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Number of cohabiting couples overtakes married couples

As Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds become the first unmarried couple to live together in 10 Downing Street, new research conveniently shows that cohabiting couples are now the UK's fastest growing family type.

In fact, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, the number of people cohabiting has risen by 25.8 per cent over the last decade overtaking the number of couples getting married.

But at the same time, ignorance about the legal rights of cohabitees remains widespread with six out of ten couples who live together mistakenly believing they have the same protection as married couples.

Sadly, for cohabiting, opposite sex couples, this is far from the case:

  • You have no automatic right to inherit your partner's estate when they die;
  • You could be liable for inheritance tax and there is no automatic entitlement to shared property, even if you have been paying the mortgage;
  • You may not be entitled to your partner's occupational pension if they die;
  • You may not be entitled to the same tax reliefs and exemptions as spouses and civil partners.

Making cohabiting legally safe

There are however, sensible steps cohabiting couples can take to protect themselves legally and financially.

This includes:

  • Taking out a Cohabitation Agreement - an uncomplicated way of detailing exactly who owns what and in what proportions, what financial arrangements a couple has decided to make while living together and how property, income and assets should be divided in the event of a split;
  • Making a Declaration of Trust. This is often incorporated into a Cohabitation Agreement and is a binding agreement confirming what share of the property each partner owns, how the proceeds will be divided if it is sold as well as things like who is going to pay the mortgage and in what proportions. They are also useful if buying a home with a friend, sibling, parent or grandparent;
  • Making it clear in your Will exactly what you want to happen if one of you dies is particularly important when you are cohabiting as, unlike married couples, as a cohabitee you don't have an automatic right to your partner's estate if one of you dies without making a Will.

Lucia Mills at Wards Solicitors specialises in cohabitation disputes and cohabitation law