The Common Law Myth

Did you know that ‘common law marriage’ is a myth?

The ‘Common Law’ Misconception

The Women and Equalities Committee in 2022 produced a report, ‘The Rights of Cohabiting Partners,’ which found that there is a common misconception that couples who are cohabiting are automatically afforded rights equal to marriage or civil partnership through ‘common law’. This is NOT the case.

The report found that 46% of people in England and Wales wrongly believed that couples living together formed a ‘common law marriage’. In actuality, unmarried couples who live together do not have the same protections and legal rights as those married or in civil partnerships.

If you are unmarried and break-up, you don’t have legal rights to your ex’s income, pensions, savings, investments or property. Of course, this only stands for things that are not jointly owned in both of your names.

“Legal provisions relating to cohabitation in England and Wales are context specific, meaning the level of protection varies considerably. In certain contexts, particularly in relation to children and domestic abuse, cohabitants have similar, and sometimes identical, protections to those of spouses or civil partners. More commonly, they may possess either inferior levels of protection or are treated as two unrelated individuals. As a result, cohabitants must resort to the general law which presents problems upon relationship breakdown, and to a lesser extent, upon death. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that many cohabitants incorrectly believe that they are protected.” – The Rights of Cohabiting Partners, 2022

Difference in Rights

There is a difference in the rights of those who are married or in civil partnerships, and those who are cohabiting. This includes:

  • Access to bank accounts
  • Automatically inheriting assets in the instance where no will exists
  • Right to stay in shared accommodation
  • Right to financial support (maintenance)
  • Next of kin in the case of medical emergency
  • Entitlement to money, possessions and pensions
  • Rights to claim Marriage Allowance
  • Inheritance rights
  • Parental responsibility
  • Cohabitation Agreements

Some unmarried couples who live together, particularly those in long-term relationships or with children, choose to get a cohabitation agreement drawn up by a solicitor.

 This is a legal document which establishes arrangements for finances, property and children while you are living together, and in the instance that you split up or if one of you becomes ill or passes away.

Cohabitation agreements allow you to set up things like next of kin rights, access to your partner’s state pension, and sharing of assets.

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