Kirkham Legal Logo
View more blogs

Common-law marriage myth exposed

On the 27th November 2017, the national family justice organisation Resolution issued a news release highlighting the financial risk that cohabiting couples are exposed to as a result of the lack of legal protection they have in the current legal system.

Resolution represents 6500 legal family practitioners, and it commissioned a poll of over 2000 British adults. The Poll found:

1-Two thirds of people in cohabiting relationships are unaware that there is no such thing as “common-law” marriage in this country;
2-80 per cent of cohabitants agree that the legal rights of cohabiting couples who separate are unclear;
3-79 per cent of the public agree that there is a need for greater legal protection for unmarried couples upon separation;
4-84 per cent of the public agree that the Government should take steps to ensure unmarried cohabiting couples are aware that they do not have the same legal protection as married couples.

This comes against the background of unmarried couples living together being the fastest growing family type in the UK. People “cohabiting” have increased from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017, but the law has not changed to reflect this social phenomenon.

“Many people in a cohabiting relationship do not even think about what will happen if the relationship breaks down, which leaves them in an exposed position because of the current lack of legal protection available” says Kathryn Doogue, Director of Kirkham Legal, who adds, “Post separation, litigation may occur for one party to establish an interest in a property owned by the former partner, but such proceedings are expensive, lengthy and, depending on the circumstances, difficult to win. If a couple are not going to get married, we always advise that they give consideration as to how their house is held, and that they should always prepare a will”.

Kathryn continues; “Most couples don’t realise that property can be held in different ways, for example in unequal shares to represent different financial contributions, and that it is upto the couple to decide if property is to be held in one parties’ name, or both names, so as to reflect the none-financial contribution that one party may make such as by looking after the children of the relationship. We strongly suggest that a couple obtain legal advice, if need be separately, at the point of acquiring a property so as to ensure fairness as best as possible, bearing in mind neither party will have the same protection as divorcing couples if they ultimately separate”.

Whilst the poll concentrated upon the lack of protection for separating couples, cohabitees should not forget that upon the death of one of them the intestacy laws do not make any provision for the survivor to inherit the estate of the other. “We are constantly informing our clients, both during the house buying process and after it has completed, that they need to prepare a will to cover this possibility. A will overrides the intestacy laws and suitable provision can be made for the survivor. Every couple should discuss this between themselves, and then act upon it. Wills are relatively inexpensive to prepare, and can avoid insignificant heartache and unfairness”, adds Kathryn.

Kirkham Legal are Conveyancing and Private Client specialists and can be contacted on 0161 393 2299 if you want to discuss any of the points mentioned above.

We are regulated by the CLC

Our Practice Licence Number is 11250.

Kirkham Legal

Kirkham Legal