Save the date! But there is no such thing as a common law marriage

Saturday 18 August has been reported as the most common day in 2018 to tie the knot in the UK. However, since the early 1970s, the number of people actually getting married has steadily decreased, dropping a further 3.4% last year. There have been many theories about why marriage rates are falling, but regardless the fact remains that fewer people are formalising their relationship.

In 2016 there were 3.3m cohabiting couples or around 6.6million cohabiting adults. This is officially the fastest growing family type, more than doubling from 1.5million couples just 20 years ago. Yet, a 2017 ComRes survey showed that only one couple in three knew there was no such thing as common law marriage.

This misunderstanding can lead to significant problems if the relationship ends and commonly leads to injustices for women and children, particularly in cases where a mother has given up or reduced her work to raise a family, or where one person has cared for an elderly relative . Unlike where parties are married or have entered into a civil partnership, for cohabitees our legal system still allows the more economically powerful party in a relationship to simply walk away after what may be many years together. The financially vulnerable cohabitee has no ability to pursue a claim for a share of assets in the other person’s sole name, unless they can rely on complex trust principles to establish a beneficial interest. It is not possible to make a claim in relation to pensions to compensate one person for not having been able to provide separately for their retirement because they haven’t been working. Nor can they make a claim for maintenance save for the upkeep of a child. Even if there are children and it is possible to seek financial provision for their benefit, this provision usually ends when the child reaches 18 or 21.

Resolution campaigns for reform of the law to improve legal protections for cohabitants and is calling on the Government to take steps to bring forward, as a minimum, basic protections for cohabiting couples. In the interim the government must also raise public awareness of the lack of protections and challenge the common law marriage myth. Only when armed with this knowledge can couples take steps to protect their families.

Posted on: 18/08/2018

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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