what unmarried couples should know about family law

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Sam and I are not married. But we have two children and a joint mortgage. At the back of my head is always a niggling thought that I should check out the legalities, and make sure that I’ve taken all the appropriate steps to secure our futures and our children’s’ futures in the event that something happens to Sam and myself, or if we decide to go our separate ways. I get asked a lot if being unmarried means I am less ‘protected’, and to be honest, I have little idea of what the legal differences might be. So, when Irwin Mitchell got in contact wanting to write a guest post for the blog, I asked if they could write about the differences in family law for married and unmarried couples and whether there are any important factors for unmarried couples to consider. Here is their lowdown on what unmarried couples should know:

Over the past fifteen years, there has been a drastic rise in the number of cohabitating couples. A recent article in The Guardian reported that since the 1990s, the number of unmarried couples has doubled, reaching the three million mark last year. It’s important to know that unmarried couples may be denied some important rights in the eyes of the law, should something happen to their partner. If this describes your situation, read on for some important information.

Unmarried Couples and Inheritance Rights
While many unmarried couples today assume that they have the same legal protection as those in marriages or civil partnerships, this is unfortunately not the case. This means that in the event that you die unexpectedly without a will, your partner will not be entitled to inherit your money or your property—no matter how many years you’ve been living together or how much your partner contributes towards the bills! Be especially careful if you’ve been married before but you’re now separated—not legally divorced—from your old partner: he or she can still inherit under the rules of intestacy.
Your children’s inheritance could be jeopardised as well. If you die without a valid will, any of your biological or children—even those you had while unmarried—will inherit your estate in equal shares. However, any stepchildren you may have will not be guaranteed to receive inheritance unless you have legally adopted them or named them in a valid will.

Married Couples/Civil Partnerships and Inheritance Rights
Under English law, the major advantage for married couples or those in a civil partnership is that your partner will be entitled to inherit your property, belongings, and estate should you die without a valid will. This will help financially protect your partner in the event that you pass unexpectedly.
The rules are also a little different for children of married couples and those in a civil partnership. In these scenarios, if you do not have a valid will, your children will only be entitled to an inheritance if there is no surviving partner or if your estate is valued at over £250,000. In the latter example, all biological and adopted children will inherit your estate in equal shares. Stepchildren will not be entitled to claim an inheritance.

What You Can Do To Protect Your Family
If you are unmarried and worried about the inheritance rights of your partner and/or your stepchildren, the best thing you can do is to seek family law advice from an expert and start the process of making a valid will. Unfortunately, this is the only way to guarantee that each member of your family will be protected in the eyes of the law. Be sure to specifically name your partner and/or any non-biological children as beneficiaries so that there are no questions when your will is being interpreted after your passing. Make sure your partner does the same.
You may also want to consider having your partner legally adopt children who are not theirs biologically and vice versa. Another option is to have your partner appointed as your children’s legal guardian in the event of your passing. This is especially important for unmarried couples who have children under the age of 18, as your partner may have to go through a cumbersome legal battle in order to gain custody of your children. Establishing your partner as legal guardian helps to protect their financial rights in the worst case scenario as well.

No matter what your family situation may be, get all the help you need with creating a will or appointing a legal guardian for your children from the experts at Irwin Mitchell. Act now before it’s too late.


So, we don’t have wills (I know, but have you seen how much those things cost??), but it’s good to know that in the event that we both died, our estate would be divided equally between the children, as that’s no doubt what we would put in our wills anyway.

We have a joint mortgage, so that automatically defaults to the other person if one of us was to die. It looks like the only mega issue would be if we had any other money or property that we wanted our other half to inherit. But seeing as we have no savings, that’s not an issue at the moment either. Sam is actually better off in a way, if he were squirreling away any secret savings, he wouldn’t be obliged to give me anything in the event of a divorce (His response to this was, “So, there really is NO advantage to being married then, is there?” Excellent).

At some stage, we will get wills written, as it’s still very important to have appointed guardians, etc, in the event that the worst happens. But for now, we will continue to FLY IN THE FACE OF COHABITING DANGER.


  1. We got joint mirroring wills done for £120, I can let you know who with, seemed pretty reasonable to me! Main motivation was being told that without a will & named guardians we risked our children being taken into care if we both died. Mind you, we had them done but haven’t had them witnessed yet…

  2. This reminds me that I have been meaning to sort wills etc out too, but as you say they can be pretty pricey! Mind you cheaper than a wedding which is something that I know we won’t be affording for some time! x

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