Clearing up the 'common Law marriage' confusion

Clearing up ‘common law marriage’ confusion

Millions of unmarried couples sharing a home remain unaware of what their rights will be in the event of relationship breakdown. The family law group Resolution said two-thirds of cohabiting couples thought “common-law marriage laws” would come into place when their finances were divided up. However, Chairman at Resolution Nigel Shepherd described the laws as “behind the times”, calling for them to be reformed so basic rights could be provided to cohabiting couples if they separated and saying society had “changed”.

Under current law, one partner can live with and have children with another without taking responsibility for them if a relationship comes to an end. Nigel Shepherd added: “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.”
The number of unmarried cohabiting couples has increased by more than double in the past 21 years, with 3.3 million couples now living together outside of marriage compared to 1.5 million in 1996.

When a partner dies
Surviving cohabiting couples can still be left with nothing if their partner passes away without having left a will, unless they own property together. Even if an unmarried partner stays at home looking after the children, they cannot claim for maintenance, property or pension-sharing in their own right, and they cannot gain access to a deceased partners bank account. Unmarried partners of tenants are not permitted to remain in the property if they are asked to leave.

ComRes Poll
The ComRes poll carried out by Resolution asked 2,000 adults if they though the government should attempt to raise awareness of the rights of unmarried couples, with 84% saying yes. 281 of the respondents were cohabiting, with two-thirds wrongly believing that they were common-law married. Around 80% of cohabitants described the legal rights on cohabiting couples as “unclear”. Many people have been shocked to discover that they had no legal entitlement to what they regarded as “joint assets” following the end of relationships.

How we can help
At Miller Reeves, we can come to your assistance if you are cohabiting and need advice and support on estate planning to ensure money and assets go to the right people after your death. Although many people associate wills and estate planning with old age, it’s wise to ensure you have something in place that determines where your assets will go no matter how old you are. Estate planning can deliver valuable peace of mind for you and your family and save you money, whilst ensuring the state doesn’t receive more than its fair share of your estate.

With our help, you can ensure nothing is left to chance when it comes to children, assets and money. In some cases, it will be beneficial to set up a Trust to protect your assets. We can help you whether you wish to set up a Trust, draw up a legally-binding will or create Lasting Powers of Attorney, so you can nominate someone to manage your affairs if you lose capacity.
To find out more about estate planning with Miller Reeves, send an e-mail to, use the contact form on our site or call 0333 300 1882.