Common Law Marriage - Is It Legal?
Posted on 12th September 2022
I was reading through my old blogsite the other day, and I came across an blog I wrote a while ago. I am therefore reposting because the questions it raised then are still relevant today.
According to a recent survey, almost half of people in England and Wales mistakenly believe that unmarried couples are actually “common law” spouses, and that they enjoy the same rights as married couples. I have touched on this in a previous blog last year, but it still came as quite a surprise to me to see that the figures remain so high.
According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, 46 per cent of the public are under the impression that cohabiting couples form a common law marriage, very similar to early findings some 14 years ago. Further indications show that people are significantly more likely to believe in common law marriage where the parties have children together.
This false belief can cause serious problems for two reasons. Firstly, the couple may fail to take appropriate steps to protect their loved ones in event of their death, incorrectly assuming that they will protected as their spouse.
Secondly, if the parties were to decide to separate, they will receive little assistance from the family courts, which can lead to severe financial hardship for the financially weaker party. Where there are children involved there may be support available for the children’s day to day and housing needs, but the wide ranging discretion afforded to the court when dealing with divorce is simply not there for separating cohabitees.
Graeme Fraser, the Resolution Cohabitation Chair states:
“The figures released by NatCen underline precisely why a change in the law is so desperately needed. Despite the absence of legal protection for cohabitants regularly hitting the headlines, levels of awareness are still worryingly low. This is something Resolution and others have been warning government about for years.
“With cohabiting couples the fastest growing family type in England and Wales, it’s time for the government to grasp the nettle and introduce at least some basic legal rights. Otherwise millions of cohabitants continue to be at risk, and could be left with a nasty shock if their partner passes away, or their relationship comes to an end.”
As a family lawyer, I am contacted every day by people who have found themselves in a position where are a long term relationship has broken down, only to find that their ex partner now wants them to leave the family home, and the family courts are of little assistance. As such, awareness needs to be raised.
If you are in a cohabiting relationship, or if you know someone that is, then whether they are separating or not it is something to think about, as it can come as a nasty shock down the line.
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