Cohabiting couples ‘at risk if their relationship breaks down’
Published: 27 February 2018
Widespread belief in the myth of common law marriage is putting millions of cohabiting couples at risk of financial hardship if their relationship breaks down.
The warning comes from the family law group, Resolution,
after it commissioned a survey showing that most cohabitants don’t realise that
they don’t have the same automatic rights as married couples.
The survey revealed that:
two-thirds of people in cohabiting relationships
are unaware that there is no such as thing as ‘common-law marriage’ in this
4 out of 5 cohabitants agree that the legal
rights of cohabiting couples who separate are unclear;
79% of the public agree that there is a need for
greater legal protection for unmarried couples upon separation;
84% of the public agree that the Government
should take steps to make cohabiting couples aware that they don’t have the
same legal protection as married couples.
Resolution says a new legal framework for rights and
responsibilities should be introduced as soon as possible.
Its chairman, Nigel
Shepherd, said: “The poll shows
that many still believe in the myth that they will get financial rights through
‘common-law marriage’. This means millions of cohabiting couples are unaware
that they don’t have automatic claims, for example on the property they live in,
if they split up. This makes it less likely they’ll take steps to protect
“In many cases,
this lack of protection affects women more than men, as they are still more
likely to have taken time off work to raise children.
“The Government must listen to the public, legal professionals and a
growing number of politicians who all agree that we need reform to provide
basic rights to cohabiting couples should they separate.
“Society has changed – it’s time for our laws to catch up.”
Under current law it’s possible to live with someone for
decades and even have children together and then simply walk away without
taking any responsibility for a former partner if the relationship breaks down.
In the absence of any automatic legal protection, many couples
draw up living together agreements that state in advance how their assets
should be divided if their relationship fails. A few years ago, the government
started a campaign urging couples to draw up such agreements to cover things
like finances, property and
Ownership of the family home is one of the most important
issues. If it is in just one person’s name, then the other partner could lose
out. You may want to consider owning it as joint tenants or tenants in common
which will make a huge difference to your rights.
If you don’t already have a Will then you should draw one up
as soon as possible. Otherwise your Estate could pass to your relatives rather
than your partner.
Unmarried fathers don’t automatically have parental
responsibility for their children, but they can acquire it with the agreement
of the mother or by applying to a court. It is clearly better to deal with the
matter while your relationship is strong rather than wait until after it has
may feel embarrassed at first to be making such legal arrangements as it seems
that they don’t fully trust each other. However, such concerns soon disappear,
and most couples end up feeling their relationship is stronger because both
partners feel more secure.
contact Claire Rutter in our Family Team if you would like more information
about living together agreements or any aspect of family law.