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There is no such thing as Common Law Marriage

It is a myth that if you cohabit with your partner, you become a “Common Law Wife” or a “Common Law Husband”.

At present, people do not acquire rights against their partners just because they live together.   In contrast, married couples have far more legal rights against each other than cohabiting couples.

This can often lead to a very unfair outcome for cohabitants upon their relationship coming to an end.  For example, they are unable to claim maintenance for themselves (not including any Child Support) regardless of how many years they may have lived with their partner.   Likewise they cannot make any claim against their partner’s pension.   Furthermore, if a property they live in is owned by their ex partner, it may well be the case that they will be unable to claim any financial interest in that property.

More and more people are choosing cohabitation over marriage

The office for National Statistics issued figures last January which confirmed cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK, accounting for 16.4% of all families.  Cohabitation has become the norm for first partnerships, with many cohabitants not thereafter marrying their partner.  However, despite the number of couples now living together outside of marriage, the law to a large extent has ignored these relationships thus meaning the financial claims a person can bring against a former partner are quite limited.

Sadly many cohabitants are oblivious to the fact that they do not enjoy the same rights as married couples.  According to a YouGov poll of 2000 adults, 51% of women and 42% of men believed they share the same rights as married couples.    It is therefore very clear that the law surrounding cohabitation is widely misunderstood. 

Rights of Cohabiting Couples

The rights that cohabitants do have, and the possible claims they can make in the event of their relationship coming to an end, are very complicated and therefore it is always advisable for a person who is considering cohabiting with their partner, or who is already in a cohabiting relationship, to seek legal advice from a Specialist Family Lawyer.  Consideration may need to be given to there being a Cohabitation Agreement, which can then set out clearly what they have agreed and to attempt to regulate their relationship whilst they are together and to make provision in the event of the relationship coming to an end.

Is the law going to change in the near future, to provide cohabitants with rights?

There is currently a Cohabitation Rights Bill before Parliament.   This is not the first time that Parliament has considered legislating on this matter.  In 2008 a similar bill was introduced in the House of Lords but failed to proceed any further.

The current Cohabitation Rights Bill seeks to provide remedies to cohabitants, upon their relationship coming to an end, which are similar to those available to married couples.   It provides that where the parties have a child or where they have lived together for at least 2 years, the Court would be given the power to make a financial settlement order, provided certain conditions are met first.

Although the Cohabitation Rights Bill would certainly provide cohabitants with more rights than they enjoy at the moment, they will still not be on a parity with married couples.   For instance, this Bill does not contain any provision for a cohabitant to seek maintenance for themselves from the other party, whereas married couples are able to seek such maintenance.

Will the Cohabitation Rights Bill become Law?

Probably not.   Governments tend to be pro-marriage and have been extremely reluctant in the past to grant cohabitants rights as this could be said to pose a threat to the institution of marriage, with couples being discouraged from getting married.   It will be a case of wait and see.

In the meantime it remains very important that cohabitants should seek legal advice so that they fully understand the legal position they are in and the position they may face in the event of their relationship coming to an end.

At Bray and Bray our family lawyers have the specialist knowledge to advise you regarding the preparation of a cohabitation agreement and to assist you should you find yourself in a situation where you and your partner are about to separate or have separated.

Bray & Bray have three main offices across Leicestershire, feel free to phone or pop in to talk to our solicitors.