Living Together - Cohabitation

New rights and obligations relating to couples that live together (cohabit) were introduced by the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 which came into law in January 2011. Prior to the introduction of the Act cohabiting couples had little or no rights or obligations with respect to each other. It is important for couples living together to understand these new rights and obligations but it is also important for couples to be aware that it is possible to contract out of the Act. Cohabitants (couples living together) do not possess the same legal rights and obligations as married couples or civil partnerships.

Cohabitants are defined in the Act as two same-sex or opposite-sex adults who are:

  • Not married to each other and
  • Not in a registered civil partnership and
  • Not related within the prohibited degrees of relationship (broadly speaking, relationships which would make them ineligible to marry each other) and
  • Who are living together in an intimate and committed relationship.

If co-habiting couples separate they may be able to apply to the Family Law Courts under the Redress Scheme introduced by the Act. In order to do this you must be a qualifying cohabitant. In order to be a qualifying cohabitant you need to have lived together for a period of two years and have a child together, or have lived together for five years immediately before the time that the relationship ended either through separation or death. If you are a qualifying cohabitant you can apply to Court, under the Redress Scheme, to claim compensatory maintenance, property transfer orders and pension adjustment orders. In the case of death, a qualifying cohabitant can make a claim against the Estate of a deceased cohabitant.

The Act also encourages couples living together to draw up their own Cohabitation Agreement setting out the arrangements for when they live together and what should happen if they separate. This Agreement can include an agreement to opt out of the Redress Scheme.