When a couple live together, or cohabit, they have no legal status as a couple. This means that a separated spouse cannot claim maintenance and has no right to a division of any assets in the other person's name even if they have contributed to the mortgage over a number of years, unless they can establish that there was a common intention that they would be entitled to a share in the property. Some couples do decide to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement before living together although this will not necessarily stand up when tested in court.

Where children are concerned, unless a Parental Responsibility Order is in place or the child was born after December 1st 2003 and the father is named on the birth certificate, an unmarried father does not automatically assume parental responsibility. This means that he has no rights to make decisions regarding his child's schooling, medical needs, religion or the right to object to the legal adoption of his child.

Maintenance for the children of a relationship and residency and contact can still be applied for through the courts. The Child Support Agency can also be involved even if the father's name is not on the birth certificate. See our section on children for further details.

There are many bodies actively campaigning for a change in the law to allow cohabiting couples the same rights as couples who are married. If you want to see a change in the law write to your local Member of Parliament and visit our links section for a list of general links to campaigning organisations.