Berg's Head of Family, Peter Woolf, comments on cohabitation
Monday, 27 February 2012
Apparently, approximately 20% of couples cohabit rather than marry.
It is therefore astonishing that the law for divorcing couples bears no relationship at all to the law affecting couples who separate after a period of cohabitation without marriage (however long that period of cohabitation may
In the main, law governing divorcing couples treat their joint assets as if it were one asset for division between the two of them; however, law governing couples who separate after a period of cohabitation could not be more different
– and each partner's assets are treated individually, there is no assumption of joint ownership.
I have had cases of couples that have cohabited for 15 years and more, one of the couples having believed that upon breakdown of the relationship he or she would have a claim upon the other's assets. That is not the case. In order
for one to claim against the other's assets, they would have to establish either that they have contributed financially towards the other's assets and/or that they have had reason to believe that the assets were regarded as joint.
There are no immediate plans for any reform of cohabitation law.
So, what is the moral of the story? I suppose it must be as follows:-
1. If you are the partner with the money, then you may be better off cohabiting than marrying (and keeping your assets separate and apart from your partner).
2. If you are the partner without the money, then you are better off marrying (and ensuring that your matrimonial assets are mixed together).
Of course, we can only advise upon the basis of the law as it presently stands. It may change in the future.
To discuss how we can provide further advice in connection with these issues, please contact Peter Woolf, Partner and head of our Family department, by email to
firstname.lastname@example.org or alternatively you can call Peter on 0161 833 9211.
The information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. No responsibility for article's accuracy or correctness is assumed by Berg or any of its
partners or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of the contents of this article.