The Legality of Cohabitation Around the World

There has been a marked shift in global attitudes towards cohabiting couples ,though traditional views remain legally entrenched in many places. Here, we present an overview of cohabitation laws across various countries and continents.

Historically, the concept of cohabitation has been frowned upon, especially in religious societies where marriage is expected before sharing the same roof. But times have changed –  living together out of wedlock has, in most cultures, become a social norm. 

There are, as you would expect, still conflicting beliefs and opinions on the matter, between different parts of the world. Stronger religious outlooks, for example, tend to be connected to a more negative view of cohabitation, and even where it is legal on paper, it can still be taboo within a society. That being said, modern culture is ever changing, and overall cohabitation is becoming more and more popular worldwide. Let’s take a look at the current state of affairs for 2020. 

UK

In the United Kingdom, cohabitation is perfectly acceptable. Data released in 2019 shows that the proportion of cohabiting couples was up to 3.4 million – totalling at 17.9% of couples living together. This is up from 15% just a few years prior. 

This growth in popularity is echoed across western culture, but the UK is one of the most popular places for unmarried couples to settle down together and share a home. In the same report, cohabiting was highlighted as the “fastest growing family type” in the UK. 

As with most places, cohabiting couples in the UK have no legal obligation to support one another financially, and there are not anywhere near the same rights as a marriage when it comes to separation. It’s no surprise then that the UK has seen a rise in cohabitation dispute solicitors.

Cohabiting was highlighted as the “fastest growing family type” in the UK. 

USA

The USA is quite a bit more complicated than the UK – not least because there is a federal government which oversees different laws state by state. As mentioned above, where strong religious beliefs are held, there is more likely to be either legislation or social expectations of marriage. 

Two states, Mississippi and Michigan, have had laws on their books against cohabitation, though they are rarely enforced. It is generally accepted now to live together without being married so long as they have a proper cohabitation agreement. 

By contrast, places like California recognise cohabitation and call those couples “domestic partners”. Again, these couples have no legal rights and have simply entered a cohabitation agreement, and they are not protected by any laws in the event of separation. 

Canada

The law of living together in Canada is very much like the UK – it’s perfectly acceptable to live with your partner and cohabit with or without an agreement. It wasn’t always this way of course – common law marriage was once a major part of society. As of 2016, cohabiting couples in Canada were around 21%. This is a huge increase from 16.4% in 2001. 

South America 

South America is no exception to the vast majority of the world in that cohabitation is on the rise. It was reported that there was a boom between 1970 and 2007. In Peru, Colombia and Venezuela there has all been a rise, though it has been reported that cohabitation levels follow other negative aspects such as lower education levels. However, like the rest of the world, non-married couples are living together in harmony without walking down the aisle.  

Asia 

China is big on cohabitation, with more couples opting for it than in previous generations. Though this is very much in line with patterns around the world. Older mentalities are fixed on the idea that cohabitation without getting married is immoral and unstable, though it’s said that more and more young people are influenced by western culture. A survey from 2015 shows that this rise has been quite consistent – with a huge 59.6% of couples living together before marriage who were born in the 1980s. 

Travel to the other side of the continent and it’s a different story. Muslim cultures do not permit cohabitation, largely owing to strongly held beliefs against pre-marital sex. Cohabitation is against the law in places such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. 

Africa 

Islam has a large presence in much of Africa, especially in the north and the west. As mentioned, cohabitation is frowned upon if not illegal in Muslim countries. Regardless of religion, African culture is said to have seen cohabitation as socially unacceptable and not tolerated by many societies living there. Couples are said to be living together without marriage in some areas, though cohabitation is not recognised as any form of legal relationship. 

Australia

In Australia, couples who choose to live together without getting married are considered to be in a “de facto” relationship. This can not be considered by people living together who are not in a romantic relationship – so essentially it is a cohabiting couple much like in the UK. De facto relationships are governed by the Family Law Act of 1975, meaning there are some rights under this law, but again, nothing like those of a legal marriage.

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