HCR Law Events

6 June 2022

Cohabiting couples and the ‘common law marriage’ myth

Figures released by parliament have revealed a change in the number of couples deciding to cohabit but not marry. The total number of cohabiting couples has increased from around 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.5 million in 2020, an increase of 137%.

However, in that same period, the number of marriages in the UK dropped by 20%. In 2020, 18% of couples that lived together were cohabiting rather than married or in a civil partnership.

It comes as no surprise therefore that enquiries received from cohabitees seeking legal advice have increased, as have cohabitee disputes.  There is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’ and yet the myth persists.

The legal framework for protecting cohabitees and their financial arrangements is virtually non-existent, compared to couples who are married or in a civil partnership. For example, the length of time you live with someone, having children together, or contributing towards household bills do not provide an entitlement to share the other person’s assets or income.

I would recommend anyone cohabiting with another person, where there is an intention to share property or start a family, speaks to an experienced family law solicitor to explore their rights and to put in place protections for the future.  Some pointers for any cohabitees:

  • If purchasing property together, before completing the purchase seek advice from a solicitor about the various ways you can legally own property and how you want future contributions to be taken into consideration. This will help avoid future arguments and could save significant costs.
  • When sharing other assets (such as bank accounts), discuss how you wish to treat those and consider entering into a cohabitation agreement that will help to avoid future conflict.
  • Make a will – you can make provision for a partner after your death if they are not automatically entitled to a share in your estate.
  • Check pension provision – some pensions don’t recognise a non-married partner even if you have children together.

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About the Author
Alex Wilson, Partner, Head of Family Law, Wye Valley

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Alex Wilson is a Cardiff and Ross-on-Wye based solicitor, specialising in family law.

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