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Does Common Law Marriage Exist In The UK? What You Need To Know.

Common law marriage refers to a marriage-like relationship between two people who live together for a period of time without actually getting married or registering a civil partnership. This type of arrangement confers some legal rights in some countries but not in the UK apart from limited rights to claim on death.

In this article, we will explore what this means for couples who choose to live together without getting married.

What is common law marriage?

The exact definition of common law marriage can vary depending on the country or state in which it is recognised, but in general, it refers to a relationship in which the couple has not legally formalised their union.

In some countries, common law marriage is recognised as a legal status that provides certain rights and protections to the couple. For example, in the United States, common-law marriage is recognised in some states, and couples who meet certain criteria can enjoy many of the same legal benefits as married couples.

Is common law marriage recognised in the UK?

The law here in the UK 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.

Even many religious marriage ceremonies (at least in the UK) are not legally recognised unless in a licensed place or accompanied by a separate civil ceremony.

Many people think we do have this system, but when it comes to dividing finances, parental rights and even inheritance rights, the law in the UK largely fails to offer protection if there is a split between a cohabiting but unmarried, couple.

What are the implications of this for couples?

There are significant negative implications for couples living together without getting married. Some of the key areas where unmarried couples are disadvantaged include:

  • Inheritance rights
  • Pension rights
  • Property rights
  • Parental rights
  • Tax breaks and benefits

What can cohabiting couples do to protect themselves?

Couples who choose to live together without getting married do not have the same legal rights and protections as married or civil-partnered couples. However, there are 2 vital steps that couples can take to protect themselves and their assets. By taking these steps, couples do what they can short of marriage to ensure that that their rights and interests are protected.

  1. Cohabitation agreement

A cohabitation agreement can be drawn up to establish the couple’s rights and responsibilities towards each other in the event of separation. It covers finances, property and what will happen to your children if you were to split or if either partner was to become ill or pass away.

Cohabitation agreements are popular with unmarried couples living together, as they cover all aspects of joint life and the complexities a split can have on this and offer protection for both parties and their assets. Cohabitation agreements can go as far as providing protections similar to marriage, such as providing equal shares of assets or access to pensions.

Crucially they allow agreement at a time whilst the relationship is thriving over what happens in the unhoped for event that it dies.

  1. Make a will

Without being married, or in a civil partnership, a surviving partner will not inherit their partner’s assets if they die without leaving a will. All they have is a limited claim for support by way of maintenance. So, couples should each make a will to ensure that their assets are distributed according to their wishes in the event of their death.

Pension nominations should be up to date with a clear understanding of their effect. ​Having a will offers you the chance to address what you would like to happen when you are no longer here, and as well as providing protection for unmarried couples, it can also be an.

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 April 6, 2023

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