Exploding the myth of common law marriage as the New Year dawns

January 3, 2018

Many people living together are unaware of their lack of rights, says family lawyer

The arrival of the New Year, after the strains put on relationships over the holiday, sadly causes some couples to resolve to go their separate ways.

However, many cohabiting couples may be doing this under the impression they have ‘common law’ rights that simply don’t exist, warns family lawyer Laura Sinclair.

Laura, from Furley Page Solicitors in Kent, is campaigning as a member of the family justice organisation Resolution to highlight the lack of legal protection upon separation for cohabiting couples. Resolution argues that current laws lag behind other countries’, such as Scotland, Australia and Canada, and need to change.

She said: “Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK, with more than six million people living in these sort of relationships, representing 17% of all families.

“Despite the myth of ‘common law marriage’, under current cohabitation law it is possible to live with someone for decades and even to have children together and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility for a former partner if the relationship breaks down.”

Many people are shocked to find after a relationship has ended that they are not legally protected. The lack of protection can have a huge impact on women and children, particularly in cases whether a mother has given up or reduced her work to raise a family.

Resolution calls for a legal framework of rights and responsibilities when unmarried couples who live together split up, to provide some legal protection and secure fair outcomes at the time of a couple’s separation or on the death of one partner.

Laura said: “Until there is a change in the law, it is important for cohabiting couples to know their rights. By talking to a solicitor and taking precautions early on, a couple can avoid acrimonious disputes and potentially costly court battles further down the line.”

She advises couples to document their intentions from the start. Cohabiting couples are not legally obliged to support each other financially so it is important to achieve security and peace of mind by drawing up a Cohabitation Agreement. If acquiring property jointly, ensure both names are on the deeds and enter into a Declaration of Trust if parties intend to own in unequal shares.

Couples should also consider taking out life insurance and making a will; unlike a married partner, if one cohabiting partner dies without leaving a Will the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything, unless the couple jointly own property

If you would like further advice on cohabitation or ‘living together’ agreements, contact Laura at lcs@furleypage.co.uk or call her on 01227 763939.

Resolution has produced a factsheet providing initial information on what cohabiting couples should consider. More information is available at www.resolution.org.uk

As a member of Resolution, Laura adheres to a Code of Practice which promotes a constructive approach to the resolution of family matters, considering the needs of the whole family and in particular, the best interests of any children.