What Extra Legal Rights Does Being Married Offer?

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Traditionally, couples have been encouraged to marry and settle down before starting a family. But attitudes within society have changed in recent years, which means many couples in long-term relationships now end up living together (called cohabiting) rather than tying the knot. As a result, many may be missing out on extra legal rights and protections.

This change in society means the number of unmarried couples living together is now the fastest growing family type in the UK. Cohabitation is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a “common law marriage”, and it’s this incorrect assumption that catches couples out when major life events occur.

That’s because common law partners don’t benefit from the same legal recognition as those who are married or in a civil partnership. And this can be particularly problematic if one of the people in a relationship dies.

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If you die without making a Will your assets are distributed in accordance with the Intestacy Rules. These rules set out an order as to who has the greatest right to benefit from your Estate (everything you own at the time of death). This order is fixed and if you aren’t married, there is no provision for your assets to pass to your partner, no matter how long you had been in a relationship with them.

Instead, your Estate will pass to your closest blood relatives, which could include your children, your parents or brothers and sisters. If there are no blood relatives for your Estate to pass to, it will instead pass to the Crown.

Having a valid Will in place means that you can decide who you would like to benefit and pass your Estate onto. It also gives you much more control and means that you can divide your Estate and leave gifts to friends or charities which you might have a close relationship with.

In addition, you can include a clause in your Will to say who you’d like to be the guardian of your children if you pass away before they reach the age of 18 and specify who should receive personal possessions that may have significant sentimental value to you or your family.

It’s therefore very important to make a Will or review your current Will to ensure your Estate passes to those who you want to benefit. It’s especially important if you live with your partner but aren’t married or in a civil partnership, as they wouldn’t be provided for when you die.

The organisers of Marriage Week, which this year runs from May 13th-19th, aim to celebrate the commitment married couples have made to each other and highlight the benefits marriage has for family life and in particular, the stability it can provide for any children.

Crucially, they want to dispel the common assumption that marriage simply involves ‘a piece of paper’, and that there’s no difference between married couples and those who co-habit. In this regard, they refer to research which states that there’s greater family stability with married couples than co-habiting couples.

Of course, the argument that married partners are able to provide a more stable home life for children is highly debatable. However, it’s clear that those who are married or in a civil partnership do benefit from greater legal rights than those who cohabit without formalising their relationship.

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