The Cohabitation Myth


For many couples, the cost, commitment, and long-term implications put them off getting married. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that cohabiting couple families grew by 29.7% between 2004 and 2014, showing that more and more people are choosing to live together, and marriage does not play a part in this decision.

Cohabiting couple

In the UK, it is a commonly held belief that even if you are unmarried, cohabitation will allow you to receive the same level of legal rights. This is simply not true.

A British couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan have recently had a child, and have since brought their case to the courts to fight for a civil partnership, which they believe is a "modern, symmetrical institution" that best reflects their beliefs and will "set the best example" for their daughter.

The couple believe that their right to family life under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) has been breached because they do not have access to a civil partnership. The 2004 Civil Partnership Act stipulates that only same-sex couples are eligible.

What Does This Mean For Couples?

Of course, each case is different, but there are wider implications for cohabiting couples who have children. At present, 2 in 5 children are now born outside of marriage; and if you are not married, you are not afforded the same protections that married couples or same-sex civil partnerships are. Children could also be at financial risk should you split up, or if your partner passes away.

Many couples are completely unaware of the legal implications of being unmarried, and have misunderstood the laws relating to their marital status; and they do not understand that they will not have the same rights as a couple who are married.

Simpson Millar's Carol Chrisfield, Associate in Family Law comments:

"I am often approached by clients who ask what rights they have as a “common law spouse” and they are shocked to discover the concept of “common law spouse” does not exist in English law. On occasion they insist that I am wrong and that they have the same legal rights as a married person once they have cohabited for 3 or 5 years. (The length of cohabitation required to acquire such right does seem to change). Their insistence that they have such rights highlights just how firmly this belief is held, a belief which is on occasion difficult to dispel.

This causes a huge problem as it means that couples are happily entering into these relationships, without any knowledge of the financial implications it could have for them. It is a hard lesson to learn, often only discovered when it is too late to take any action.

It’s an issue not only if couples separate but also in terms of other financial planning. They may not make a Will, in the belief it is unnecessary to do so because they feel their partner is their next of kin and will inherit their estate anyway, only for their partner to discover this is not the case.

A partner may also not be entitled to a “spouses” pension in the event of death, although pension provider are now increasing providing for partners as well as a spouse, but this is not necessary true - but how many people have checked?"

How Can Simpson Millar Help?

If you're cohabiting and are unsure of the laws surrounding your family life, Simpson Millar is on hand to give you the actionable, jargon-free advice that you need.

Simpson Millar's family law team are experts in their field, and can offer you a range of packaged price legal services to suit your needs.

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