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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
10 rights cohabiting couples don't enjoy
In a landmark ruling, a judge has awarded a woman a 100,000 share of her common law partner's home, even though she hadn't paid towards the mortgage. The judgement could affect thousands of cohabiting partners who usually have no right to maintenance or sharing of property after a break-up. What other rights do common law partners not have?

Wedding ring
Marriage gives a couple many rights cohabiters don't enjoy
1. People often refer to couples who live together - maybe with their children - as "common law" husbands and wives. There is in fact no such legal status. The law describes the situation as "cohabitation".

2. Financially supporting a cohabiting partner is not a legal duty, whereas each married partner has a legal duty to support the other, including after a split. Philip Moor QC, head of the Family Law Bar Association, said: "It is unfair that if a marriage breaks down there can be a fair sharing of the assets but if a cohabitation breaks down there isn't."

3. Parental responsibility - all the rights, duties and obligations to do with children - rest with the unmarried mother unless she has registered the birth with the child's father, they have made a formal agreement or if the father has obtained a court order. There is no automatic right of the father, unlike in marriage. Michael Nichols, a barrister specialising in child cases, said: "If you are married the mother gets parental responsibility automatically and the father gets it because he is married to the mother. If the couple are unmarried the mother gets it automatically but the father has to acquire it, which is not always easy. "

4. Cohabiting couples cannot adopt a child; one partner must apply to adopt as a single person.

5. In banking, if one partner of a cohabiting couple dies, any money held in the deceased person's account will become the property of the estate and cannot be used until the estate is settled. In marriage, a bank may allow the remaining partner to withdraw the balance.

6. Without a will, the surviving partner in a cohabiting partnership will not automatically inherit anything unless the couple owned property jointly. A Help the Aged spokesperson said: "We should be reflecting these changes in the way estates are divided to make things more equal."

7. A cohabiting couple can separate informally without the intervention of a court, whereas a married couple need to go to court to end the marriage formally. In both cases, however, the court has power to make orders relating to the care of the children.

8. The cohabiting partner of a tenant will usually have no rights to stay in the accommodation if the tenant asks them to leave. In a marriage, both partners have the right to live in the matrimonial home, no matter whose name the tenancy agreement is in.

9. Decisions on sterilisation, abortion and even fitting of a contraceptive coil can be made without one cohabiting partner having to ask the other. In marriage, although consent is not legally required, a clinic may ask for it. A spokesperson for sexual health charity Marie Stopes said: "We might ask whether the woman had discussed sterilisation with her husband but we would certainly never turn a woman away. Some GPs, however, might have a different attitude."

10. A widow's or widower's pension cannot be claimed by a cohabiting partner. Help the Aged spokesperson Andrea Lane said: "People are living their lives very differently - more and more are either cohabiting or living as single people and choosing not to marry."


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