Family law

How is being married and cohabiting different?

Married couples have greater legal and financial protections than those simply living together. This short guide explains the most important differences.

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Do married people have more legal rights than unmarried couples?

Yes. Being married to your partner gives you a number of important legal rights over things like property and money that you wouldn't have if you are simply living together or co-habiting.

This doesn't mean that you have to get married; but it does mean that if you want to make sure you both have as much legal and financial protection as possible, you should consider making a cohabitation agreement.

Our experienced family lawyers can explain all the benefits of a cohabitation agreement and prepare one for you if you want to protect each other legally and financially.

To find out more, call 0330 107 6495 or contact us online today and we will call you back to discuss your options.

In the meantime, these are just some of the issues you might want to consider when deciding whether to marry or live together, and if living together whether you should have a cohabitation agreement.

How do bank accounts differ for married couples and cohabiting couples ?

Marriage is a legal contract between two people and the law treats your rights with regards to bank accounts differently when you're married, compared to when you are living together.

Bank accounts for married couples: The law treats the money in a married couple's joint bank account as being jointly owned. In the event that one person dies, the money automatically belongs to the surviving spouse

• Bank accounts for cohabiting couples: If you have a joint bank account and your partner dies, whilst you may still be able to draw on the account, a proportion of the balance will remain in the estate of the deceased person, which may cause you a problem if they left their money to someone else in their will

Are parental rights different for cohabiting couples?

If you are married: When your children are born, both parents automatically have parental responsibility This means that in the event of a divorce or dissolution, you will continue to make all major decisions about your children.  

• If you are unmarried: Then only the birth mother automatically gains parental responsibility when you have a child together. Unmarried fathers won't automatically have parental responsibility if the child was born before 1 December 2003, though they will if the birth happened after that date and they are named on the birth certificate. The biological father can also acquire parental responsibility by subsequently marrying the birth mother

Are inheritance rights different for unmarried couples?

• If you are married: Should your spouse or civil partner die intestate (i.e. without leaving a will) you will usually inherit a part of the estate; unless someone else makes a claim on the estate, such as a child from a previous marriage

• If you are unmarried: Should your partner die without leaving a will, there is no automatic right for you to inherit their money or property, which may leave their estate open to claims from their blood relations. That's why it is essential for cohabiting couples to make wills to protect each other.   

However, the surviving partner may be able to claim on the estate if they were dependent on the partner before he or she died - but this would require a declaration in court of the share of the money and property you need.

Being unmarried can leave cohabiting couples in a more vulnerable position than married couples. The solution may well be to make sure that you have wills in place as well as a carefully drafted cohabitation agreement that protects both of you financially and legally.

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