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This week I’ll be fielding cohabitation questions on This Morning


Cohabitation and the legal rights (or lack of them) enjoyed by unmarried couples have been covered in detail on this blog over the years. Cohabitation is when couples live together as man or wife, with or without children, but without being married. Some people call it common law marriage, but a common law marriage has no legal status.

Because of the myths and misconceptions that surround cohabitation, I groaned when I read the newspapers today. Alex Reid, the cage fighter and Celebrity Big Brother winner, has announced the birth of his daughter, born on Father’s Day. Mr Reid’s partner, Chantelle Houghton, is a fellow Celebrity Big Brother winner and reality TV star. They are not married, but are believed to be engaged. The relationship is reportedly rocky and, if the rumours are true, I suspect that the odds on the couple surviving together for another year are not great. The birth of this child is to be celebrated. But I wish it wasn’t such “hot news”, and I do so for a serious reason.

On Wednesday 20 June 2012 I will be appearing on This Morning to discuss cohabitation, and to field questions from the programme’s viewers. I don’t know yet what I will be asked. However having read the news reports about Alex Reid and Chantelle Houghton, and browsed the programme’s Facebook page, I can guess…

More than two million couples cohabit in England and Wales. The case of Jones v Kernott, which was heard in the Supreme Court in 2011, centred upon a property dispute between two former cohabitees, and made national headlines. Even so, it is incredible how little people know about the legal implications of cohabitation – and I am sure that the feelgood magazine stories about celebrities don’t help. Only this weekend I was having a coffee with a friend who is intelligent and well-educated, but who also seemed to be of the opinion that if couples live together, they acquire legal rights similar to those enjoyed by married couples.

They don’t!

Cohabitees acquire no automatic rights to anything akin to a divorce settlement. True, a mother may be able to make a claim on behalf of her child, under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, which enables the Court to make orders for periodical payments, lump sums, settlement of property and transfers of property.  However she has no automatic rights to make a claim over the property of her former partner, unless she contributed to it. And even if she did, it can be a long hard road – as the recent case of Geary v Rankine demonstrates.

So when you see Chantelle and Alex and their new baby splashed all over the glossy magazines, remember that they have sold their story and are making a lot of money from it. Unless you are as financially independent as you are financially secure, please don’t be tempted to copy those in the public eye. As many of my clients have been alarmed to discover over the years, it is dangerous to live with a wealthier partner and trust that you and any children you may have will be provided for forever.

If you can, please watch This Morning on Wednesday and contact the programme with your questions if you have any. I will post the clip with my answers on this blog later in the week.

Update: you can view the segment from This Morning at the bottom of this post.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. JamesB says:

    Can you try and get some blokes to ask a question or 2, I thought was age of equality.

  2. hazel harris says:

    thank you maralyn for keeping the message in the limelight to others so they don’t make the same mistakes as i did my battle is still ongoing with relatives who won’t negociate i have to go to court and am told it’s all according to wether i get a sympathetic judge relatives who don’t love a deceased person say and do anything for money some will not do whats morally the right thing and the law disregards people in my position it’s so wrong it’s hell no other word for it as you know yourself there are many like me and my deceased partner who think we are binded with a common law marriage and now i know it doesn’t exist
    i am doing all i can even though depressed in this situation to tell everyone i know what the law is and to make sure a will is written or better still get married i wish i had
    every one who watched the programme and you have helped i will thank you from them all as i know what you have saved them from

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Hazel
      Thanks very much for your comment. It’s very kind of you.
      With very best wishes

  3. DT says:

    You’ve put a big smile on my face Marilyn!

    I am SO glad that you mentioned civil partnerships and they too were covered! I think it will have made some people sit up and think.

    The situation for cohabiting couples is so frightening and still SO many people don’t know how vulnerable they really are. It’s dire and unnecessarily so.

    I don’t think that getting married for logistical reasons is anything to be ashamed of; it might not be romantic to see it this way, but look at the poor souls like Hazel. Romance doesn’t pay the bills. 

    I had a similar conversation with a colleague recently who was shocked at my “pragmatic” view on the matter. Well, I make no apologies for being sensible about something so important and nor should anyone else!


  4. john says:

    i was never married to the 2 mothers of my children do i still need to pay child support and have doubts to possibley them not being mine even though i am on the birth certificates.

  5. suzy says:

    i have seperated from my partner of seven years we have two children.i am sole owner of my home he did however contribute towards purchase of home we had no loan agreement between us.he has registered intrest in my home.Any advice on what i can do?

  6. JamesB says:

    Yes, unless you have it proved by dna test, or neither of you apply to get the amount assessed. There are ways to minimise the amount though, but the short answer is sadly yes, sorry. I do disagree with this policy wholeheartedly.

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