Cohabiting couples warned of ‘common law marriage’ myths
Millions of unmarried couples who live together could be unaware of their rights if the relationship breaks down.
Resolution carried out a survey which found two-thirds of cohabiting couples wrongly believe “common-law marriage” laws exist when dividing up finances.
The number of unmarried couples living together has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017.
Resolution chairman Nigel Shepherd said current laws were “behind the times”.
He said: “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.”
Mr Shepherd said “society has changed”, as cohabiting couples have become the fastest-growing family type in the UK.
He said, under current law, it was possible to live with someone for decades – and have children together – but not take responsibility for the former partner if the relationship breaks down.
Cohabiting vs marriage: Six ways your rights differ
If one cohabiting partner dies without leaving a will, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything – unless the couple jointly owns a property.
A married partner would inherit all or some of the estate.
An unmarried partner who stays at home to care for children cannot make any claims in their own right for property, maintenance or pension-sharing.
Cohabiting partners cannot access their partner’s bank account if they die.
Married couples may be allowed to withdraw the balance providing the amount is small.
An unmarried couple can separate without going to court, but married couples need to go to a court and get divorced to end the marriage formally.
Cohabiting couples are not legally obliged to support each other financially, but married partners have a legal duty to support each other.
If you are the unmarried partner of a tenant, you have no rights to stay in the accommodation if you are asked to leave.
Married partners, however, have the right to live in the “matrimonial home”.
Source: Citizens Advice
Of 2000 UK adults, 84% suggested the government should educate unmarried cohabiting couples to know they have the rights of married couples.
281 people were in a cohabiting relationship – two-thirds of which thought they were common-law married.
A further four in five cohabitants believed that the legal rights surrounding cohabiting people who separate were “unclear”.
If they have children, each cohabiting partner will still have the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent.