Increase in numbers of cohabiting couples

Figures just released by the Office for National Statistic reveal that the number of cohabiting couples with families has risen by 38% in the past 10 years. Whilst marriage remains the most common form of relationship for couples, it is difficult to ignore such a substantial increase in those families where marriage or civil partnership is not relevant.

The figures do not come as much of a surprise. There has been a steady increase in the number of cohabiting couples for a number of years. However, there is a great deal of ignorance about the legal rights and obligations which cohabiting couples have. For fathers, it can mean that they do not have parental responsibility for their children if they have not been named as the father when the birth is registered. For children born before 1 December 2003 the position is even worse as even those fathers who are registered do not acquire parental responsibility. This means that there is no legal right to have a say in decisions regarding a child’s upbringing such as choice of school, choice of religion or even consent to medical treatment, amongst other things.

Although parental responsibility does not have any direct impact on who a child should live with or what the contact arrangements are, it is something which should be addressed. If both parents agree, it is simply a matter of completing a Parental Responsibility Agreement and registering it.

The other major difference relates to financial arrangements. Cohabiting couples are under no obligation to maintain each other, there is no right to seek a share of the other’s pension and rights in relation to property are severely limited compared to married couples.  The “common law wife” does not exist and it never has!

Increasingly, couples are seeking to make their own arrangements in the absence of a satisfactory statutory framework, by entering into a cohabitation agreement. Such agreements can regulate maintenance, property ownership and other financial issues. They are a cost effective way of planning ahead and with the government already having signalled its intention not to change the law relating to cohabiting couples in the lifetime of this Parliament, are likely to become much more popular in the future.

If you would like to know more about cohabitation legal rights call us on 0845 0738 445 or email