Are you in a ‘de facto relationship’ and could it affect your legal standing?

De facto relationships, often referred to as “common-law partnerships,” pose unique legal challenges that differ from those of a traditional marriage.

A de facto relationship is a long-term, cohabiting partnership between two individuals who are not legally married but live together, sharing a mutual emotional and financial commitment like that of a married couple.

Whilst such relationships do not enjoy the automatic legal protections that come with matrimony, certain rights and responsibilities still apply.

Understanding these is crucial for individuals who are in, or contemplating entering, a de facto relationship.

Property rights

In the absence of formal legal structures, property division can become a contentious issue where a de facto relationship breaks up.

In the UK, the law does not automatically provide for the equal division of assets in de facto relationships, unlike in marital separations.

Instead, property claims are generally determined by contributions made by each party, either financially or through actions like homemaking and childcare.

It’s advisable to have a cohabitation agreement in place to delineate the property rights of each party clearly before committing to property ownership.

Financial support

Unlike married couples, partners in a de facto relationship are not obligated to financially maintain each other either during the relationship or upon separation.

However, certain provisions may apply in some circumstances, especially if children are involved.

Child maintenance is a legal obligation and will be determined based on the non-residential parent’s income.

Parental rights

Children born within a de facto relationship have the same rights as those born to married parents.

Both parents have equal parental responsibility, provided they are named on the birth certificate.

Legal issues might arise, however, if the couple separates and cannot agree on custody arrangements.

It is vital to discuss these issues with a solicitor before they arise.

Inheritance rights

Another area of concern for many is inheritance.

Without a valid Will, de facto partners are not automatically entitled to inherit from each other’s estates.

Instead, the laws of intestacy will apply, which prioritise immediate family members such as children or parents over a de facto partner.

To ensure your partner is protected in the case of your death, creating a Will with the help of a solicitor is strongly advised.

Legal documentation

Given the above-listed complexities, de facto couples may consider entering into a cohabitation agreement or a declaration of trust to clarify their intentions regarding property and financial arrangements.

These legal documents can offer some level of security and can mitigate future disputes but should always be written in the presence and with the assistance of a qualified solicitor.

De facto relationships may lack the innate legal protections that come with marriage, but they are far from legally void and come with their own rights and regulations.

With careful planning and awareness of the legal landscape, partners can safeguard their individual and common interests efficiently.

For tailored advice on any of these issues, consult one of our solicitors.

Contact us

Complete the below form and a member of our team will get back to you

If you would like to see full details of our data practices please visit our Privacy Policy and if you have any questions please email