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Common Law, Cohabitation and Confusion in the Family Law

View profile for Karen Kenyon
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Cohabiting couples make up the fastest growing type of family however the law doesn’t recognize them in the same way as married couples or couples in a civil partnership.

If you and your partner aren’t married then you might be surprised that you have much less legal protection if you were to break-up.

Common Law Myths

There is no such thing as a common law marriage and yet nearly half (46%) of adults in England and Wales mistakenly believe that if couples live together for long enough, or have children together, they become “common law husband and wife” and therefore automatically obtain the same rights as married couples – this is a myth!

In this as in all areas of the law it always makes sense to speak to a family law solicitor to get your questions answered correctly when it comes to separation.

“It really doesn’t matter if you have lived together for years or have children together. You are not legally recognized as a couple, making it very difficult to claim a share in the family home or your partner’s finances if you split,” said Pearson family law solicitor, Karen Kenyon.

Married couples who divorce can have their property and capital assets legally divided despite whose name the assets might be in. Unmarried couples without proof of ownership, simply don’t have the same rights.

“Unmarried partners don’t have automatic rights to inheritance, unless specifically named in their partner’s Will,” she warned.

Parents do have financial obligations towards any children they have whether they are married or not. However, unmarried partners are not entitled to maintenance for themselves, even if one partner has given up or reduced work to care for their children.

“It is a matter of concern that a person could be left without a home, no access to money and no financial security for themselves if they are in a cohabiting relationship and they split,” added Karen.

“Awareness is therefore needed of such issues for cohabiting couples so that we can assist in helping them take legal measures to protect themselves.”

What can you do to protect yourself and your family if you are part of a cohabiting couple?

We would urge you to speak to a Family Law Solicitor and consider:

  • Entering into a Cohabitation Agreement which sets out your joint intentions for resolving property, finances and child arrangements if you split up
  • Ensuring your Title Deeds are in joint names if you are buying a property together
  • Ensuring your Tenancy Agreement is in joint names if you rent a property together
  • Take out life insurance to protect you
  • Make a Will

If one partner in an unmarried couple dies, then the surviving partner does not have an automatic right to inherit a share of the property or possessions, without this being provided for in a Will. Even if the surviving partner has lived in the house for decades, without their name on the Title Deeds or as a beneficiary in a Will, they could lose their home and any right to the proceeds of the sale.

Our team of family lawyers can advise you on all of your options as a cohabitee and we would therefore urge you to seek professional legal advice.

As a full service law firm we have solicitors who specialise in all the areas you need to navigate all aspects of family law, wills and estate planning, conveyancing advice and financial planning and pension advice following your separation.

For the help and advice you need, or just simply for a no obligation chat with one of our team call 0161 785 3500 or email enquiries@pearsonlegal.co.uk

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.