Resolution warns that that millions of unmarried couples who live together could be unaware of their rights upon a relationship breakdown.

Resolution recently carried out a survey which found that two-thirds of cohabiting couples wrongly believe “common-law marriage” laws exists

The fact is that there is no such thing as ‘common law marriage’ in England and Wales: you are either married or you are not.

The number of unmarried couples living together has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017.  Many of these cohabiting couples are unlikely to appreciate how little protection they have in law upon separation and regardless of how long they have cohabited with their former partner.

Marriage v Cohabitation

  1. If one cohabiting partner dies without leaving a Will, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything – unless the couple jointly own property and the tenancy has not been severed. A married partner would inherit all or some of the estate.
  2. An unmarried partner who stays at home to care for children cannot make any claims in their own right for property owned by the other party, maintenance or pensions.
  3. Cohabiting partners cannot access their partner’s bank account if they die – whereas married couples may be allowed to withdraw the balance providing the amount is small.
  4. An unmarried couple can separate without involving the Court, but married couples need to issue Court proceedings to end a marriage formally.
  5. Cohabiting couples are not legally obliged to support each other financially, but married (as opposed to divorced) partners have a legal duty to support each other.
  6. If you are the unmarried partner of home-owner, you have no rights to stay in the accommodation if you are asked to leave – but each married partner has the right to live in the “matrimonial home” until the marriage is dissolved.

So, in a nutshell if you are the party that is in the stronger financial position, it is likely that in order to protect your assets you may want to avoid marriage (or, at least, enter into a Pre-nup).

If you are the party who is in a much weaker financial position you may want to give due consideration to your financial position in the future should the relationship break down say 10 or more years down the line, particularly if you intend to stay at home looking after children so that your spouse can further his/her career.  If you require protection, you need to marry.  Who said romance is dead?

The ComRes poll of 2,000 UK adults, by Resolution, found 84% of people thought the government should take steps to make sure unmarried cohabiting couples knew they did not have the same legal protection as married couples.  Of these respondents, 281 people were in a cohabiting relationship – two-thirds of which thought they were common-law married.

Some 98% of Resolution legal advisers reported worked with clients who they said they could not help due to the lack of legal protection.  Clearly, knowledge is the key.  If you are unsure, take legal advice.

How can we help?

If you have any enquiries regarding these points raised here,  then please contact our specialised family teams at our offices. We have teams in Boston, Grantham, Lincoln, Newark, Sleaford and Spalding in which we will take time to listen to your enquiry in a friendly and empathetic nature. At Ringrose Law our motto is ‘where individuals count’. This is our core belief and we aim to make our clients feel valued from being first greeted by reception to speaking to one of our many fully qualified, experienced Solicitors. We know at Ringrose Law that satisfaction is linked to service,  so we will always provide the best service we can to you as we know that is exactly what you expect when you either make a phone call to us or walk through the door of one of our many branches.

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