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Cohabitation, Civil Partnership Or Marriage? You Need Legal Advice


The New Year began well for Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who celebrated their heterosexual civil partnership on the steps of Kensington and Chelsea Register Office in West London in January.  This followed a long, legal battle to allow mixed-sex partners to opt out of marriage and form a civil partnership.

Civil partnerships offer almost identical rights as marriage, including property and pension  provision, maintenance and tax status.  Some people delay in taking any steps to legalise their relationship status and, if things go sour, it is often too late to take effective action.

It’s important to consider the options and understand the consequences at the outset of a cohabiting relationship.  There may be significant difference and benefits depending on which course is followed.  Building the foundations at an early stage will ensure the best possible start and encourage mutual commitment and financial security.

Above all, understanding that there are few, if any, rights in a ‘common law marriage’ will allow people to take effective action to protect their position.

When does a person need legal advice?

If a couple is considering cohabitation (a ‘common law marriage’), whether mixed or same sex, take advice beforehand about:

* asset protection (for example, a new partner may be moving into a home owned

and funded by the other).

* how jointly owned assets are to be held (for example, if a property is being

purchased together, how it is to be registered at the Land Registry and how the

property costs are to be funded).

* Practical living arrangements (for example, whether there is to be a joint bank


* the implications of having children together


Mother and father swinging daughter outdoors

A cohabitation agreement will allow a couple (whether same-sex or mixed-sex), to understand and agree how they can regulate their financial and other living arrangements.  It is invariably the case that if a couple is living together one or other of them will be at a significant financial disadvantage because of the lack of legal rights in a common law marriage.  Advice about damage limitation can be invaluable, particularly where there are children involved.

If a couple is contemplating marriage or civil partnership, take advice well in advance (ie at least 3 – 4 months), of any ceremony to ensure all arrangements are in place.  This will allow informed decisions to be made about which legal option (marriage or civil partnership), will work best for them.  There is often little practical difference, save terminology, but cultural and religious implications can mean that one option(marriage or civil partnership), is more suitable for some couples that the other, whether same-sex or mixed sex.

For advice on these important issues call our team of specialist family lawyers on 0121 248 4001.



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