Generally speaking, you have fewer legal rights if you’re living together than if you’re married. This article explains some of the most important legal differences between being married and living together. In England and Wales, this covers same-sex partners. It does not cover civil partnerships. This advice applies to England and also explains why it is so important to write a will. 

​​Do Couples Living Together Have The Same Rights as Married Couples?

Legal Status

Living Together

Whilst there is no legal definition of living together, it commonly means living together as a non-married couple. Some aspects of your status may be formalised such as drawing up a legal agreement called a cohabitation contract or living together agreement. A living together agreement outlines the rights and obligations of each partner towards the other. If you make one, you should also make a legal agreement about how any property is shared. This is called a ‘declaration of trust’.

If you want to make a living together agreement or a declaration of trust, get in touch with one of our team. We have years of experience in helping cohabiting couples formalise legal aspects of their relationship


Whether you choose a civil or religious marriage, in some cases, a religious marriage alone will not be valid. You will also need a civil marriage.

Proof of a marriage can be:-

  • A certified copy of an entry in the UK register of marriages; or
  • A marriage certificate issued in the country where the marriage took place.


Living together

If you live together and both have separate bank accounts, neither of you can have access to money in the other partner’s account. If one partner dies, any money in the account will form part of your partner’s estate. It cannot be used until the estate is settled. This is one of the reasons it is so important to write a will.

If you have a joint account and your relationship ends and you can’t agree who the money belongs to, a court might have to decide. However, if one party didn’t use the account at all, it may be difficult to claim any right to it.

If the account is in joint names and one partner dies, the other partner becomes entitled to the balance. They can continue to have unlimited access to the account. However, a proportion of the balance will be taken into account when calculating the value of the estate of the person who has died.


If a married couple has a joint bank account, the money is owned jointly as long as the marriage lasts. If one partner dies, the whole account immediately becomes the property of the other. Debts and overdrafts on a joint bank account will be the responsibility of both or either partner too. This is the case irrespective of who incurred them.

If each married partner has a separate bank account and one dies, the bank may allow the other partner access to the balance provided the amount is small.

Even married people should write a will to ensure that there is no loss incurred by their spouse when they are widowed. Nothing is ever as clear cut as when it is laid out in a legal document such as a will.


Parental Responsibility

Parents with parental responsibility are entitled to have a say in important decisions about a child’s life. These include where the child lives, healthcare decisions, education, religion, name, etc. Parental responsibility lasts until a child is 18.

Cohabitation And Marriage

If you separate, you and your partner may make informal, amicable arrangements for your children. This is the case whether you are living together or married. If it isn’t possible to agree on certain issues, you can apply to the court for a child arrangements order. 

Financial Support of children

Cohabitation And Marriage

Both parents are responsible for financially supporting their children. A non-resident parent can be contacted by the Child Maintenance Service for maintenance

Appointing A Guardian

Living Together

A mother can appoint a guardian to act on her death and a father can appoint a guardian to act on his death if he has parental responsibility for the child.


Either parent can appoint a guardian to act in the event of both parents dying.

Death and inheritance

You can find out HERE what could happen if you die without a will.

Living Arrangements


Living together

If you are the unmarried partner of a tenant, (both in private and social housing), you usually have no rights to stay if your ex-partner asks you to leave.  It is advisable for partners who are living together to be joint tenants. It is possible to convert existing sole tenancies to joint tenancies if the sole tenant and the landlord agree. This is another reason it is so important to write a will.

As an unmarried partner, you can get short-term rights to stay by applying to court. Get in touch today if you need help.

You may have different rights if your partner has been violent towards you. 

If a sole tenant dies, the surviving partner may have the right to continue living in the home. If you are in this situation, you should get in touch today..


Both married partners have the right to the matrimonial home. This applies until a court orders otherwise.

If you and your ex-partner both agree on who should stay in the home, you can ask the landlord to transfer the tenancy into the name of the partner who stays. If both names are on the tenancy, you can ask for the tenancy to be changed. 

If you can’t agree on who should stay, the right to your tenancy can be decided as part of the divorce proceedings. If you want to apply to transfer a tenancy, you should do this at the same time you apply for a divorce. Otherwise, it may not be possible for the tenancy to be transferred at a later date.

Home Owners

Living together

A property may be owned in the one name or may be owned jointly.

A sole owner will have the right to stay in the home post separation. However, your partner may be able to claim a ‘beneficial interest’ in it…

Joint owners have equal rights to the home. If you can’t agree what should happen to the home, the court will decide.

If your partner is the sole owner, you may have no rights to remain in the home if asked to leave.

If you have children, you can ask a court to transfer the property into your name. The court will only do this if it is in the best interests of your children.


Both married partners have a right to remain in the matrimonial home, regardless of who bought it or has a mortgage on it. Either party will have the right to stay in the home until a court has orders otherwise.

If you are divorcing, the long-term right to ownership of your property can be decided alongside divorce proceedings. The court has the power to transfer property despite original ownership. 

If you are the sole or joint owner of the home, your partner will not be able to sell it without your agreement. However, if your partner is the sole owner, you will need to register your home rights in order to protect your interests. This can help prevent your partner from selling up or making you leave if it’s sold. 


Living Together

If you are unmarried, you are taxed separately. Each partner has a personal allowance when calculating how much income tax they must pay.


Spouses are taxed independently. Each partner can claim a personal allowance. Married couples can also claim either Marriage Allowance or Married Couple’s Allowance. They can only claim Married Couple’s Allowance if at least one spouse was born before 6 April 1935. This is one of the reasons it is so important to write a will.

Learn how to efficiently manage your tax here.

Write A Will

This list of legal differences between married and unmarried couples is by no means exhaustive but the issues outlined are ones we get asked about on a daily basis. We also hope it emphasises why it is so important to write a will. Don’t hesitate to get in touch for help with all your estate planning solutions. Write a will today.

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