Common Law Marriage Is A Myth – Know Your Rights

Modern relationships continue to evolve and the proportion of couples who now choose to live together without marrying has increased exponentially over the last decade (now 1 in 4 couples).
UK Family and Matrimonial
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Modern relationships continue to evolve and the proportion of couples who now choose to live together without marrying has increased exponentially over the last decade (now 1 in 4 couples).

The law in England and Wales means that even if a couple have lived together for many years they do not have the same legal rights and protections as a married couple. Many people think they do have the same rights but, when it comes to dividing property and finances, parental rights and inheritance rights, the law offers little protection when the relationship breaks down for those who are not married.

Family lawyers frequently have to explain to clients that 'common law marriage' is a myth and one of the biggest misconceptions – despite what Google may say!

The myth is engrained in society and you only need to fill out a form such as your annual car insurance renewal which gives the option of 'common law partner' at the relationship status question to see how difficult it is to expel the myth.

There is an obvious need for reform to the law in order to protect couples that live together, and it is a current hot topic within the legal sector but for now, family lawyers continue to warn couples about the risk of not having an appropriate agreement in place prior to moving in to a shared property.

It is important that couples that choose to live together are aware of their rights and what steps they can take to protect their assets in the event of an unexpected breakdown in relationship.

Do you know your rights?

  • The breakdown of a cohabiting relationship does not in itself give you an automatic claim against property owned in the other party's sole name.
  • Cohabiting partners cannot claim maintenance for themselves if the relationship breaks down. Spousal maintenance is a regular payment made by a former husband/wife or civil partner to their ex-partner to help them support themselves but is only relevant if you're married. Child maintenance is the same for married and unmarried couples.
  • Cohabiting couples do not have an automatic right to benefit from their partner's pension unless they are named as a 'nominated beneficiary' with the provider.
  • Unmarried fathers do not automatically have parental responsibility for their children unless they later marry the mother or they are named on the child's birth certificate.
  • The Children Act Schedule 1 gives some provision for a parent to make a financial claim on behalf of the child against the other parent, including capital/property claims (the parents need never have have lived together)

If you are considering moving in with your partner or purchasing a property together, our Family Lawyers at Ellisons are here to advise you on Cohabitation Agreements and whether it will be a beneficial option to you.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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