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Marital Rights vs Co-habiting rights

Marital Rights vs Co-habiting rights

Married vs Cohabiting

There is often confusion around the legal rights of married couples versus cohabiting couples. While married couples have clear legal protections and obligations, cohabiting couples do not have the same automatic rights. This can lead to significant differences in how assets and property are divided in the event of a separation, as well as issues around child arrangements and ongoing financial support. In this blog, we will explore the key differences between marital rights vs co-habiting rights.

Marital Rights

Marital rights in the United Kingdom are the legal protections and obligations that are afforded to married couples. When a couple gets married, they enter into a legally binding contract that confers certain rights and responsibilities on both parties. In the event of a divorce, the law seeks to divide the couple’s assets and property in a fair and equitable manner, taking into account a range of factors such as the length of the marriage, the financial needs of each party, and the contributions made by each party to the marriage. This may include the division of property, savings, investments, and pension funds.

Under UK law, both parties to a marriage have certain rights and obligations. For example, each party has a duty to provide financial support to the other, particularly in cases where one party earns significantly more than the other. This may include the payment of spousal maintenance, which is designed to ensure that the less well-off party is able to meet their cost of living, following the divorce.

Marital rights include child arrangements, which include living arrangements when they will see each parent and financial support. The court will make decisions based on the best interests of the child, considering factors such as the child’s wishes, their relationship with each parent, and the ability of each parent to meet the child’s needs.

Both parents have a duty to financially support their child and this duty continues after the divorce. In cases where one parent has primary care of the child, the other parent may be required to pay child support to help with the child’s expenses.

It is important to note that the law surrounding marital rights in the UK is complex, and there may be significant variation depending on the specific circumstances of each case.

Co-Habiting Rights

Cohabiting couples do not have the same automatic legal protections and obligations as married couples. This means that in the event of a separation, cohabiting couples may face significant challenges when it comes to dividing assets and property and determining issues such as child arrangements and financial support.

In the absence of any prior legal contract, the law treats cohabiting couples as individuals rather than as a unit. This means that each person retains ownership of the assets and property that they brought into the relationship, and any joint assets that they acquired are considered to be owned equally.

However, dividing these assets and property can be complex and contentious. Cohabiting couples do not have the same automatic right to make a claim on their partner’s assets and property, which means that any disputes must be resolved through negotiation, family mediation or litigation.  Take a look at our guide to the 11 different ways to agree a financial settlement in a divorce or separation.  If you are able to reach an agreement through one of these methods, you could look at having this drawn up into a Separation Agreement.

Cohabitation AgreementIn addition, cohabiting couples may face challenges when it comes to determining issues such as child arrangements and financial support. While each parent has a legal duty to provide financial support for their child, there is no automatic entitlement to financial support for the other partner over and above the standard child maintenance costs. In some, usually exceptional, circumstances a claim can be made under Section One of the Children’s Act 1989. You should always take good legal advice if considering a claim under this.

To protect their legal interests, cohabiting couples may wish to consider entering into a cohabitation agreement. This is a legal contract which sets out the terms of the couple’s relationship, including how assets and property will be divided in the event of a separation. Cohabitation agreements can also cover issues such as child arrangements and financial support, providing clarity and certainty for both parties.

“At the start of a cohabitating relationship, it is wise to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement. A Cohabitation Agreement sets out clearly what the financial arrangements are and what will happen if the relationship ends”. – DFA LAW


While the differences between marital and cohabitation rights can create additional complexities during a separation or divorce, it is still very much possible to find a way forward amicably.  Exploring alternative dispute resolution methods, such as family mediation can help both parties to reach a fair and mutually agreeable settlement.

Ultimately, the key is to remain open and communicative and to approach the situation with a willingness to compromise and work towards a positive outcome for all involved. By doing so, separating couples – Married or Cohabiting – can move forward with their lives and focus on their futures.


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