The Common Law Marriage Myth

Two thirds of people living together do not understand there is no such thing as Common Law Marriage.

That is according to family law group Resolution, which says many people think living together without marriage bestows legal rights equivalent to a marriage after a period of time.

However Resolution says this is a myth as cohabitants have no automatic rights and very limited legal options should a relationship end.

Statistics show that cohabitation is becoming more popular in the UK. The number of unmarried couples living together has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million this year.

A poll commissioned by Resolution and published at the start of Cohabitation Awareness Week at the end of November revealed a significant lack of understanding about the rights available to unmarried couples.

It found two thirds of the 2,000 adults who took part in the poll people were unaware that there is no such thing as common law marriage in England and Wales. Four in five thought that the legal rights of cohabiting couples who separate are unclear.

The poll found 79 percent felt there is a need for greater legal protection for unmarried couples and that 84 percent thought the Government should take steps to ensure unmarried couples made are aware that they do not have the same legal protection as married couples.

Resolution chairman Nigel Shepherd, described the current laws as “falling desperately behind the times.”

He said: “Millions of cohabiting couples are unaware that they don’t have automatic claims, for example on the property they live in, if they split up. This makes it less likely they’ll take steps to protect themselves.

“In many cases, this lack of protection affects women more than men, as they are still more likely to have taken time off work to raise children.

“The Government must listen to the public, legal professions and a growing number for politicians who all agree that we need to reform to provide basic rights to cohabiting couples should they separate.”

Alastair Yapp, who is a Family Law specialist at Phillips Solicitors, said: “There is a steady rise in disputes between cohabitants and it is a common theme that most are unaware of their rights.

“The laws that do exist are complex, so it may well be that cohabitants could benefit from advice both at the beginning of a cohabiting relationship, as to how best to protect their assets, and towards the end of a relationship, as to what potential claims they may have against their partner.”

If you are considering separating from your partner or if you have any other Family Law issue, please do not hesitate to contact Alastair by calling 01256 854649, or send an email to

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