The word originates from the latin cohabitare meaning dwell together.

Nowadays more and more couples, for whatever reason, choose to live together without getting married. They live together as husband and wife and the relationship is sometimes, rather misguidedly, referred to as a “common law marriage” for which there is no specific legal status.

The cohabiting couples are called cohabitants and although they have some legal protection in certain areas they are not protected by law in the same way as married couples are and, in fact, there is no legal definition of cohabitation. Over the years the courts have included the following criteria when considering the concept of cohabitation:

Couples living in the same household;


Shared financial expenditure;

Sexual relationship and dependant children and

Public acknowledgement.

Surveys have revealed that cohabitants themselves are not always aware of this lack of legal protection and work is being undertaken to try to ensure that cohabitants and their families are made more aware of their position and how to try to protect themselves if their relationship should break down.

Cohabitation contracts or living together agreements can be drawn up to set down in a legal agreement the cohabitants' obligations to each other and it would be wise for a cohabiting couple to seek legal advice regarding this so that they are clear about their intentions. This becomes increasingly important when children are involved or property is jointly-owned.

Living together and marriage: legal differences - Citizens Advice

Women: if you're cohabiting, it doesn't give you the same rights

BBC Radio 4 - Unreliable Evidence, The Law and Cohabitation

Why a cohabitation agreement is essential for non-married couples ...

Marriage and cohabitation - UK Parliament


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