The Myth of the Common Law Partner

Author:
Jane Auty
Partner, Family Law and Divorce Solicitor
Date:
19/09/2019

If you’ve been living with your partner for any period of time, you’ve probably heard of the term common law marriage or common law husband or wife.

You may also think that you have some legal rights if you’ve been living together for a certain length of time, but this is simply not true. In England and Wales, there is no such thing as a Common Law Marriage.

Marriage has been on the decline since the 1970s but hit an all-time low in 2015, with a small increase in 2016.

With less social pressure on couples to get married and the average cost of a wedding rising to £27,000, many couples are choosing to live together instead of getting married. They’re often prioritising buying a house, their education, starting a family or going travelling.

But with these new priorities, come some challenges.

Living together works really well for many people, but it doesn’t matter how long you live together, you won’t ever get the same legal rights as a married couple. So it’s important to understand the impact of this on your relationship.

In the most extreme circumstances, you could find yourself in a situation where you’re left with no financial provision after a long relationship living together, which is known as cohabiting. Similarly, someone who’s been the main financial contributor towards the property could find that they have to pay out half the equity of their property to their former partner, when they separate.

It’s clear that you should consider what steps you can take to protect yourself if you’re living with your partner, but what are the options?

Here are 4 steps you could take:

  1. Get Married or Enter a Civil Partnership – Although some people really don’t agree with marriage, it’s one of the simplest ways to make sure you have legal rights in your relationship. You can get married quickly and cheaply so if the cost is the only thing holding you back, perhaps you should consider The Legal Benefits of being Married.

  2. Make a Cohabitation Agreement – This is an agreement which deals with your financial arrangements and sets out what will happen to your joint assets if you separate. It’s similar to a Prenup. It’s a really easy way to protect yourself and can be legally binding too, so when you both agree to making a Cohabitation Agreement, you know you’re both protected. This can be particularly important if you have children together.

  3. Make a Declaration of Trust – If you own a property together a Declaration of Trust details the shares each of you owns in the property. That means if you do separate, there’s a legal document outlining who will get what share from the property.

  4. Make a Will - Unless you make a Will, your partner won’t receive anything from your Estate when you die. That’s because they have no legal rights to your Estate under the Rules of Intestacy (when you die without a Will). The only way you can make sure your partner inherits from you when you’re gone is to make a Will – then your wishes will be legally documented and have to be followed.

If you and your partner are living together and you’re not planning to get married, make sure that you both know where you stand legally and that you take all the right steps to protect yourself, your home and your children.

For initial advice call our Family Law & Divorce Solicitors

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