OLS Solicitors Blog

Cohabitation Agreements for Women: Why they might be essential

By Isabel Gillman on November 30, 2023

cohabitation agreements protect unmarried women

Why Cohabitation Agreements are essential in common law marriages

Cohabitation agreements are becoming increasingly crucial for women in England and Wales, especially in the context of safeguarding their rights in the event of a relationship breakdown. Unlike married couples, cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights, which can lead to significant financial and legal challenges if the relationship ends. This blog post delves into why cohabitation agreements are essential for women and the issues they face as cohabitees compared to their married counterparts. It also dispels the commonly held myth of the “common law marriage”.

Understanding the Legal Landscape for Cohabiting Couples

In England and Wales, the legal system treats cohabiting couples very differently from married couples. The concept of a ‘common law spouse’ is a myth; there are no automatic rights or protections for cohabitants, regardless of the relationship’s length. This lack of legal recognition can lead to a host of issues for women if the relationship breaks down, especially concerning property rights, financial support, and children.

Property Rights: A Major Concern for Cohabitants

For married couples, the family home is often considered a joint asset, regardless of whose name is on the deed. This presumption does not apply to cohabiting couples. If a woman is not named on the property deed, she may have no claim to the home she has lived in, even for many years. This situation can leave women in a precarious position, potentially homeless and without any share in the property they may have contributed to, both financially and non-financially.

A cohabitation agreement can stipulate how property should be divided if the relationship ends, providing some security and clarity for both parties. Without such an agreement, the property division would be based solely on strict legal ownership, which may not reflect the true nature of the couple’s financial arrangement.

Financial Support and Maintenance

Upon divorce, married women have a legal right to seek financial support and maintenance from their spouses. This is not the case for cohabiting women. The end of a cohabiting relationship does not automatically entitle either party to financial support from the other, leaving many women financially vulnerable, especially if they have sacrificed career opportunities for the relationship or the upbringing of children.

Cohabitation agreements can include provisions for financial support, similar to a maintenance agreement in a divorce, to ensure that both parties are treated fairly and that any financial imbalances are addressed.

Child Arrangements and Parental Responsibility

While mothers automatically have parental responsibility for their children, the same is not always true for fathers, particularly if they are not married to the mother and not listed on the birth certificate. This can create complications in cohabiting relationships regarding decisions about the child’s upbringing and access arrangements if the couple separates.

A cohabitation agreement can include provisions for how children will be raised and what access arrangements will be in place if the relationship ends, providing stability and certainty for the children involved.

 The Psychological Impact of Inequality

The legal inequalities faced by cohabiting women can also have a significant psychological impact. The insecurity of not having the same legal protections as married women can create stress and anxiety, particularly in long-term relationships where significant joint contributions to property and family life have been made.

The Importance of Legal Advice

Given the complexities and potential pitfalls of cohabitation, it is vital for women to seek legal advice before entering into such an arrangement. A solicitor can help draft a cohabitation agreement that reflects the couple’s wishes and ensures that both parties’ rights are protected.

 Empowering Women Through Cohabitation Agreements

In conclusion, cohabitation agreements are not just legal documents; they are tools of empowerment for women. They provide a means to address the inherent legal inequalities faced by cohabiting couples in England and Wales, ensuring that women have some level of protection and rights if the relationship breaks down. As the number of cohabiting couples continues to rise, it is increasingly important for women to be aware of their legal position and take proactive steps to safeguard their future.

 References and Further Reading

1. “Cohabitation Rights” – Citizens Advice Bureau
2. “Property Rights of Cohabiting Couples” – The Law Society
3. “The Myth of Common Law Marriage” – Office for National Statistics

4. Martin Lewis warns cohabitees in the Daily Mirror

These references provide additional information and legal context for those interested in exploring the topic further. The legal landscape surrounding cohabitation is complex, and staying informed is crucial for protecting your rights and interests.

If you are interested in securing your future get in touch for a no obligation chat on 01554 756952

Request A Free Callback

    Your Name *

    Your Number

    Enquiry subject *


    • Isabel Gillman

      Isabel, our Senior Solicitor, has a strong connection to Llanelli, having grown up in the area. She attended Cardiff University and graduated in 1987 with a Degree in Law (LLB Honours). With over thirty years of experience as a solicitor, Isabel has worked in-house and freelance, specialising in family cases of all kinds. Her expertise has seen her take cases to the Court of Appeal, an accomplishment that reflects her professionalism and dedication to her clients. Away from the office, Isabel enjoys spending time with her family and dogs in the great outdoors. She loves to keep active by engaging in box-fit, aerobics, and yoga. As a volunteer at a local animal rescue shelter, Isabel demonstrates her passion for animal welfare. She is also an active member of her local Chamber Choir.

    Home » Legal agreements » Cohabitation Agreements for Women: Why they might be essential
    Ask Us A Question