Family Law

Part of the series Macmillan Professional Masters pp 283-291


  • Kate Standley


Although many couples live together as cohabitees (i. e. as husbands and wives in the same household but without going through a ceremony of marriage), English law does not give them the same rights and responsibilities as spouses. This may have certain advantages (e. g. there is no mutual duty of maintenance), but being a cohabitee has several disadvantages. On relationship breakdown cohabitees are often in a particularly vulnerable position, as any property dispute must be determined according to the general rules of property law, for there is no discretionary jurisdiction to adjust the property rights of cohabitees as there is for spouses on divorce, nullity or judicial separation. On the death of a cohabitee who dies intestate the surviving partner is also not treated as favourably as a spouse. Another possible disadvantage of being a cohabitee is that the unmarried father has no automatic parental responsibility for his child, although both parents have maintenance obligations to their children. Cohabitees can, and sometimes do, make cohabitation contracts to regulate their affairs (e. g. to make arrangements about the allocation of property and other issues should their relationship break down), but most do not in practice do so.