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Cohabiting couples – Don’t fall victim to common law marriage misconceptions

A recent report has revealed that nearly half of people in England and Wales still incorrectly believe that unmarried couples who live together, have a common law marriage.

This belief leads many to dangerously assume that cohabiting couples are protected by the same rights as legally married couples.

The facts

These findings come from this year’s British Social Attitudes Survey, carried out by The National Centre for Social Research, who have revealed that 46% of the public think cohabiting couples form a common law marriage. Although the number of cohabiting couples has significantly risen, this percentage has not changed over the last 14 years – it was 47% in 2005.

Responses also indicate that people are significantly more likely to form a misconception of common law marriage when children are involved; 55% of households with children think the law exists, whereas only 41% of those without agree.

What does this mean for cohabiting couples?

Wrongly assuming common law marriage exists can put you and your family in danger; particularly concerning financial arrangements when relationships come to an end or partners pass away.

It’s very sad that so many people still believe in this urban myth. The rights of an unmarried partner even where there are children, are few indeed and too many people, usually women, are not disabused of their beliefs until it is too late and their relationship has broken down.

Top tips to protect yourself and your family 

Many have called for government reforms which take into account the increase in cohabiting relationships, granting partners basic legal rights at least. However, as we await such changes, we recommend you take proactive steps now to protect you and your family.

  • Talk to a family lawyer to get to know your rights as a cohabitee.
  • Create a ‘Cohabitation Agreement‘ – it can set out terms to define what would happen to assets that each of you owns in the event of the relationship breaking down. This allows you both to make well-informed decisions about child support, monthly payments and control and organisation of bank accounts and the property you have both brought into the relationship. It is a signed legal document that can be enforced in court if your partner ever contests it.
  • Consider a ‘Declaration of Trust’ – set out how your home is owned and in what shares.
  • Make a Will – unfortunately, when an individual dies without a Will, the ‘intestacy rules’ apply and do not legally consider a cohabiting partner as someone who can inherit, no matter how long the relationship lasted. Additionally, any claims against the estate by them are limited to maintenance provisions.


For more information or advice on this or any other Family Law issue, please get in touch with our team of specialist Family Lawyers on 0115 9 100 200 or send us a message.

Posted on January 30, 2019

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