There are many misconceptions about the rights of cohabiting unmarried couples, says Resolution accredited specialist Carol Jessop. The general rules are:
- A jointly owned property is usually owned in equal shares irrespective of the level of contribution unless there is any declaration to the contrary.
- A cohabitee does not automatically acquire a financial interest in a property owned by the other by making contributions.
- On separation a cohabitee does not have rights based on the length of cohabitation.
- Conversely on death the surviving partner may have claims against the other’s estate following cohabitation for more than 2 years.
- A separated cohabitee has no right to maintenance or pension.
The recent Court of Appeal judgment in Liden v Burton  highlighted the difficulties in this area of law. Ms Liden paid Mr. Burton £500 per month towards the bills including £200 "towards the house". Although £500 is less than she would pay to live elsewhere, the Court held that she had been led to believe that she was acquiring an interest in the home and she was granted a 10% share.
When entering into cohabitation it is important to be clear from the outset what the respective expectations are.
If the house is purchased in joint names with unequal contributions to the cost or mortgage payments, the property can be owned in unequal shares. If the house is in one name, an agreement can record the intentions to avoid any misunderstanding.