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Don't fall for the myth of common law marriage

Around 1 in 8 adults in England and Wales are currently co-habiting i.e. living with a partner without being married or in a civil partnership. However, a recent survey showed that around two-thirds of these couples may be labouring under the mistaken belief that by living together on a permanent basis they are in a “common law marriage” and that this grants them certain legal rights and protections.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a common law marriage in England and Wales, meaning that many of these couples are leaving themselves entirely unprotected if their relationship ends. This can have very serious consequences for their living arrangements, financial security and any children they have, making the myth of common law marriage a particularly dangerous one to fall for.

What are your legal rights if you separate from your unmarried partner?

As an unmarried couple, you have no automatic legal right to any share of your partner’s property, savings, pension or other assets. If you are living in their home, you also have no automatic right to be there, meaning they can theoretically ask you to leave as soon as your relationship ends.

Your partner is also under no legal obligation to support you or any children you have together, beyond the basic legal requirements for child maintenance. This often has a particularly negative effect on mothers, who are more likely to have allowed their career to take a backseat so they can focus on raising their children.

How to protect yourself when living together without getting married

If you are living together with a partner whom you are not married to or in a civil partnership with, there is a way to protect yourselves against any future breakdown in your relationships.

By using what is known as a ‘co-habitation agreement’ you can set out exactly what will happen if you separate, including how your finances will be divided, what will happen to your family home and arrangements for any children you have together.

A co-habitation agreement is legally binding on both parties, meaning it provides certainty for the future. It can cover details such as what rights you both have to your shared home, for example, if you moved into a property your partner owns and have contributed to the mortgage, does this entitle you to a share of the property?

The agreement doesn’t just have to be for if you split up – it can also cover ongoing issues, such as how your rent or mortgage will be paid and other practical issues involved in living together. It can therefore help your relationship to run more smoothly, as well as providing reassurance in the event things don’t work out.

Crisp & Co’s family lawyers help couples across the UK with co-habitation agreements. We provide the friendly expertise you need to get the right protections in place for you and your partner, helping to avoid unnecessary tension in your relationship and giving you both peace of mind for the future.

To find out more, speak to one of our expert co-habitation lawyers now by calling 020 3797 4952 or use the enquiry form below to request a call back.

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