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Expelling divorce myths…cohabitation and common law marriage, what are your legal rights?

Many people still believe in one of the biggest urban myths about marriage-  that if you live with your partner for long enough then your relationship status becomes, in effect, a ‘common law marriage’ and have the same legal rights.  The 2011 census recorded that more than 10% of adults were cohabiting and many don’t realise the full implications of their situation legally in the event of separation or death. Cohabitation and “common law marriage” has no legal status!  Unlike marriage and civil partnerships, unmarried couples have no legal rights over their partner’s property or assets if they die or separate.

Back in February this year, the House of commons published a briefing paper about common law marriage and cohabitation.  The paper presented data about numbers of cohabiting couples currently in England and Wales and discussed how the law currently applies to them and how the Law Commission is hoping to reform the law.


It makes no difference how long a couple have been together or how many children they have together, without a marriage certificate or civil partnership certificate, there is no legal agreement in the event of separation.

If you are one of the many thousands of couples currently in this situation, then this can be a sobering thought but the Law Commission is hoping to introduce a new statutory scheme of financial relief in the event of separation which will be based on the contributions that have been made by both parties to the length of the relationship.

Eligibility to the scheme would be available to couples who have a child/children together or who have lived together for a minimum period.  This scheme may be some way off being a reality though so it is important to try and protect yourself legally until then.

If your partner dies…

You will not automatically inherit your partner’s estate or assets in the event of their death.  Their siblings, children and parents have more legal rights to their inheritance.  The Law Commission has made recommendations that some cohabitants should have the right to inherit under the intestacy rules on their partner’s death, without having to go to court but this has not been made law as yet.

The only way to protect yourself from potential financial hardship is to get a written agreement with your partner such as a cohabitation agreement or declaration trust which will provide some legal protection in the event of separation or death.

For an informal chat and to find out about cohabitation agreements and declaration trusts, please contact our family law team on FREEPHONE 0800 1979 345.

Thorneycroft specialist solicitors offer expert help and advice on the legal and financial implications of a relationship breakdown.

If you live in Macclesfield, Buxton, Holmes Chapel or surrounding areas and require family law advice or to discuss your separation in more detail please call one of our specialist solicitors or complete our simple online enquiry form.