The word ‘cohabitation’ has come to denote the situation where two people live together as husband and wife or as civil partners in a family framework analogous to marriage or civil partnership, without actually having gone through a ceremony of marriage or entering into a civil partnership.
There is no formal definition of ‘cohabitants’ but, as offered by Section 62(1) Family Law Act 1996, cohabitants are: ‘two persons who are neither married to each other nor civil partners of each other but are living together as husband and wife or as if they were civil partners’.
The Adoption and Children Act 2002 definition of ‘a couple’ includes ‘two people (whether of different sexes or of the same sex) living as partners in an enduring family relationship’ (section 144 (4)).
Some couples cohabit rather than marry (or enter into a civil partnership) because one of them remains married to (or in a civil partnership with) another person, some because they have fundamental concerns about what marriage represents, some (opposite sex couples) because they are not able to enter into civil partnership which arguably does not carry with it the historical baggage of church and patriarchy.
It doesn’t really matter why couples choose not to marry or to become civil partners of each other; what matters is that they understand what rights and protections they have as regards the other during the subsistence of their relationship and on its possible breakdown.
To discuss any aspect of cohabitation law, do contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org