Does Common Law Marriage Exist?

Many cohabiting couples assume that living with their partner for a long time provides them with legal rights, similar to that of a spouse, should the relationship come to end.

Contrary to popular belief there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’ in England and Wales. It is not possible to automatically acquire any rights to your partners’ property regardless of the length of the relationship. The law does not recognise a relationship between a couple unless they are married or in a civil partnership, they are simply viewed as two people living under the same roof.

This can quite as quite a shock to an individual who has no financial protection in place in the event that the relationship ends, or their partner sadly dies with no valid will in place. Unlike in divorce proceedings, there are no specific rules that automatically apply.

An individual would be especially vulnerable if they move into a property owned or rented solely in their partner’s name.

They may assume that if they have lived together for many years, have children together and share the household outgoings they will have rights in regards to the property. But this is not true.

 

What about in cases with shared children?

Unmarried couples have no financial obligation in relation to the other unless they share children. In which case they would be required to pay Child Maintenance at the applicable rate determined by the Child Maintenance Service. Should your partner ask you to leave a property they hold in their sole name, the law offers little assistance.

 

Could I be entitled to their pension?

Should your partner suddenly pass away, unless there is a will naming you as a beneficiary, you would have no automatic right to inherit. If it is the case that you are able to prove that you lived together ‘as man and wife’ and were financially dependent on your partner you may be able to make a limited claim on their estate. Such a claim is likely to be stressful and costly.

Whilst some pension companies allow the pension holder to nominate who they wish to benefit in the event of their death, you would not be entitled to state bereavement benefit or any state pension based on your partners’ national insurance contributions.

It is perfectly understandable that many couples may choose to live together for a number of years before taking the plunge and getting married but where they do choose to cohabit it is essential that they consider their position, and put measures in place to protect themselves, should the relationship come to an end.

 

Is there likely to be reform?

There has been mounting pressure for a reform to the laws surrounding cohabiting couples as the current system offers little protection. We remain hopeful that additional protection will come into force in the future. But until then unmarried couples should be aware of the financial risks of cohabitation.

 

Cohabitation Agreement; An alternative

One of the most effective ways unmarried couples can gain protection is to formalise aspects of their cohabitation by having a legal agreement drawn up. This document is called a Cohabitation Agreement and its purpose is to clearly outline the parties agreement with regards to division of property in the event of the relationship coming to an end.

Cohabitation Agreements determine who owns what and to what extent. The document can deal with agreements in relation to property, cars, assets, possessions and savings in addition to determining how any joint debts or bank accounts should be dealt with thereby alleviating the stress and cost involved in disputes later down the line.

 

We can help

Should you require advice on your rights as a cohabitee please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Contact our family team on wecanhelp@ringroselaw.co.uk or call 03333 580393

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