Family Law pp 283-291

Part of the Macmillan Professional Masters book series (PPML)


  • 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.


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Further Reading

  1. Barton. ‘Cohabitation and Scottish law: another country moves ahead?’ (1990) Fam Law 405.Google Scholar
  2. Barton. ‘Pre-nuptial and cohabitation contracts: in at the birth’ (1992) Fam Law 47.Google Scholar
  3. Clarke. ‘The family home: intention and agreement’ (1992) Fam Law 72.Google Scholar
  4. Clarke and Edmunds. ’H v. M: Equity and the Essex Cohabitant’ (1992) Fam Law 523.Google Scholar
  5. Deech, ‘The unmarried father and human rights’ (1992) J Ch L 3.Google Scholar
  6. Ferguson, ‘Constructive trusts — a note of caution’ (1993) LQR 114.Google Scholar
  7. Gardner, ‘Rethinking family property’ (1993) LQR 263.Google Scholar
  8. Haskey and Kiernan, ‘Cohabitation: some demographic statistics’ (1990) Fam Law 442.Google Scholar
  9. Hayton, ‘Equitable rights of cohabitees’ (1990) Conv 370.Google Scholar
  10. Jackson, ‘People who live together should put their affairs in order’ (1990) Fam Law 439.Google Scholar
  11. Parker, Informal marriage, cohabitation and the law, 1750–1989 (1991) Macmillan. Parker, Cohabitation (1991) Longman.Google Scholar
  12. Parry. The Law Relating to Cohabitation (1988) Sweet & Maxwell.Google Scholar
  13. Priest. ‘Children in care: care proceedings, and the unmarried father — the Children Act 1989’ (1991) J Ch L 104.Google Scholar
  14. Priest, Families Outside Marriage (1990) Jordans.Google Scholar
  15. Sachs. ‘The unmarried father’ (1991) Fam Law 538.Google Scholar
  16. Scottish Law Commission, The Effects of Cohabitation on Private Law (Discussion Paper No 86, 1990).Google Scholar
  17. Welstead. ‘Mistresses in law — deserving of protection’ (1990) Fam Law 72.Google Scholar
  18. Welstead, ‘Co-owners and the matrimonial home — the statutory quasi-spouse’ (1992) Fam Law 230.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kate Standley 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kate Standley

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