Dispelling the ‘common law’ marriage myth

12th March 2019

Terry Bastyan Gilbert Stephens Solicitors

The Law Society of England and Wales warned couples who aren’t married that they may not be able to rely on their ‘common law’ marriage to provide them with any rights, as there is legally no such thing.

The University of Exeter recently commissioned a survey on British attitudes towards common law marriage, and it was found that 46% of people interviewed believed that long term co-habitation led to legal rights similar to those enjoyed by married couples. 55% of households with children believe in rights ensuing from ‘common law’ marriage, which could leave them in trouble if they are not married and are assuming that certain rights apply to them and their family. This is not the case, as ‘common law’ marriage is simply not recognised by our legal system.

Potential problem areas are if the couple chooses to separate or if one partner dies, when division of finances, debt and property can become very complicated.

If one partner dies without naming the other in their will, their estate will pass to their next of kin, usually a close family member, and their partner can be left without a legal claim to their partner’s estate and their shared home.

Separation becomes even more complicated when children are involved and with more and more couples opting for cohabitation, it is vitally important to dispel the ‘common law’ myth.

Despite not being able to rely on the rights inherent in a legal marriage, there are many options for cohabiting couples to consider in order to safeguard themselves and their families.

Cohabitation agreements can make sure that your wishes are set out in advance should anything unexpected happen. Shared property ownership gives each member of the couple security and wills can be updated to make a partner a beneficiary.

Terry Bastyan, Managing Partner of Gilbert Stephens Solicitors tells us, “Long-term cohabiting couples, with or without children, and couples who are considering moving in together need to make sure that they are protected by law.

“A cohabitation agreement can deal with property rights, arrangements for mutual financial support, debt, caring for children and any other issues related to your lifestyle and relationship. By drawing up and signing a legal agreement, you both know where you stand in the case of unforeseen circumstances and can avoid costly court and legal fees trying to sort matters out in the future.”

If you would like any advice about your legal rights when it comes to cohabiting and want to know what you can do to protect yourself, your partner and your family, get in touch with Terry Bastyan on 01392 424242 or email .