Thinking about living together? A beginner’s guide
This is just one of our resources to help you work out your rights when you live with your partner. Be sure to take a look at:
- our guide on why you should make a cohabitation/living together agreement and how to do it
- our guide to the law on home ownership when you live together
- our guide about how living with a partner or breaking up with your partner impacts on your benefits
- our guide to help you through a separation with your partner who you live with - the law is very different if you are not married or in a civil partnership.
If you are just thinking about living together with a partner there are some important things to be aware of from the start. The main thing to know is that it doesn’t matter how long you live with your partner, you don’t have the rights of a married couple or a couple in a civil partnership. There is no such thing as a common law marriage in England and Wales.
It covers key things to think about from your housing rights as a couple, to pensions and benefits.
The information in this short guide relates to England and Wales only.
If the tenancy is in only one person’s name and you split up the person not named on the tenancy will usually have no right to stay if their partner asks them to leave. Bear this in mind if and when you are starting a new tenancy. If you're renting a new place together, think about putting both names on the tenancy. The kind of tenancy you have and whether your landlord is the local council, a housing association or a private landlord all affect your housing rights.
A home you or your partner owns
If the home is owned in one person’s name and there is no other agreement in place, the unnamed partner may have no right to stay if they are asked to leave or if their partner dies. They may be able to prove that they should own part of the home but to do this you would need legal advice and you might need to apply to court. This area of law is complicated and that means it becomes expensive and drawn out very quickly. Our guide on home ownership for people who live together but are not married has more useful information on this.
If you're buying a new place together, or moving into a home your partner already owns, think carefully about how you want to own it. Decisions about who owns the home and how you own it, if you own it together, will make a massive difference to your rights. Our guide about living together when one or both of you own your home will help you make an informed decision.
Whether you own your home together or not, it is important to agree what will happen if you do break up. This is not always easy to think or talk about. Use our guide on making a cohabitation or living together agreement to help you have this conversation and make decisions as a couple about the future.
It is important to understand the difference between legally owning a home, by yourself or with someone else, and just having your name on the mortgage. If you have your name on the mortgage it means you are responsible for paying the monthly repayments. It doesn’t automatically mean you own the home. You have to have your name on the title of the property at the Land Registry to legally own the home. Our guide about home ownership when you live together explains more about this.
Making a will
Make a will – even if you haven’t got very much to leave at the moment. Without a will your partner won’t automatically inherit anything from you. Instead, any property or things of value, known as ‘assets’, that you own will automatically pass to your closest blood relations and not your partner. This could include the home you share, leaving your partner is a risky situation.
If you have children
‘Parental responsibility’ is the legal term for the right to have a say in how your child is brought up and your responsibilities for them as their parent. If you are an unmarried father you will only automatically have parental responsibility if you are named as the father on your child’s birth certificate. Take a look at our guide for more about what parental responsibility means and the different ways to get it.
Check your pension scheme - some don’t pay survivor’s benefits to unmarried partners. For your partner to benefit from your pension when you die you will probably need to tell your pension company that this is what you want by formally naming them as a ‘nominated beneficiary’.
Think about how you can build up separate pensions for each of you. If you or your partner has given up work to look after the family or worked less while looking after the family, you need to think about how this will affect your pensions in the future and how you can make it fairer.
Unlike married couples, you won’t be entitled to a percentage of your partner’s state pension.
Living with your partner can affect your benefits. If you break up this will affect what you can claim too. It is important to get all the benefits the law says you are entitled to. But, you also need to be clear on what you can and cannot claim depending on who you are living with so that you don’t have to cope with a benefits sanction. Make sure you know where you stand when it comes to living with someone and your benefits.
Our top tips
If you are going to move in with your partner make sure you think about doing the following things.
- Make a cohabitation/living together agreement
- Make a Will and keep it up to date
- If you have children, check that you have parental responsibility and if you don’t, find out how to get it
- Check your pension company will pay out to an unmarried partner
- Check you are claiming the right benefits for you and your partner so that you don’t get sanctioned by DWP
About this guide
The information in this guide applies to the law in England and Wales only.
The information in this guide is correct at the date of publication. The law is complicated and does change. We have simplified things in this guide. Please don’t rely on this guide as a complete statement of the law. We recommend you try and get advice from the sources listed in our Help Directory.
This guide was produced by Law for Life thanks to funding from the Help Accessing Legal Support grant (HALS). Our thanks to Victoria Rylatt of Anthony Gold Solicitors LLP for her advice and guidance on the update of this guide.
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