Dispelling the myths of common law protection
No such thing as common law spouse when it comes to legal protection
While married couple families remain the most common in the UK, cohabiting couples are the fastest-growing family type with the number increasing by 25.8% over the last decade.
Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that overall the number of families in the UK rose from 17.7 million to 19.1 million between 2008 and 2018.
“These latest figures show that people are increasingly choosing to live together rather than marry,” says Kelly Perks, an expert in the family law team at Higgs & Sons.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to relationship breakdown or the death of one partner, the law still does not recognise these relationships in the same way as it does for married couples or those in a civil partnership.
“Many people who are not married still wrongly believe that if they co-own a property with their partner, ownership of that property will automatically pass to them on their partner’s death. This is not the case.
“Similarly, where a relationship breaks down, unless there are written agreements in place, claims pertaining to home ownership, financial settlements and maintenance payments are not enforceable in the same way as for those involving married couples.
“The fact of the matter is that despite it being a fairly common belief, there is no such thing as a ‘common law’ wife or husband. In fact, cohobating couples may have very little legal protection should they break up, or when one partner dies.”
Many experts feel the law needs to change to better reflect the growing number of people who choose not to marry but live together as a family unit.
Resolution is an organisation made up of family law professionals who work with families and individuals to resolve issues in a constructive way. This year, Resolution’s Awareness Week focussed on the need for legal reform to provide basic rights for cohabiting couples who separate.
“It is important that the law is reformed to give the same level of protection to cohabitees on the breakdown of their relationship as that afforded their married counterparts,” concludes Kelly Perks.
“However as we await any such reforms, it is important that people who live together are fully aware of the legal situation. Having written agreements with regard to home ownership, finances and crucially children, is essential so that should the worst happen, there is adequate protection in place for all those involved.”
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