A recent survey of MPs revealed that 69% of parliamentarians believe there is a mistaken belief in the myth of the “common law marriage” whilst 57% believe that the law should be changed to provide more protection to unmarried couples.
The “common law marriage myth” is the mistaken belief that living together as man and wife for a certain amount of time, or living together and having a child together offers the same protection to couples as if they were married. This is not true. The lack of protection can cause injustice and hardship, couples can live together for years, one partner may give up work to look after the children allowing their partner to work, whilst damaging their own earning capacity and pension pot. Despite this, if the relationship breaks down their partner can simply walk away without a requirement to support the partner who has given up so much to look after the family.
There are approximately 5.9 million people cohabiting in the UK. Lord Marks QC says that it is high time the law is brought into step with how millions of people live their lives.
But what about those who choose not to get married in order to avoid the obligations which marriage places upon a couple. For example, if the family home is owned in the sole name of one spouse the other spouse has a right to claim some of the equity in this property; whereas with cohabiting couples if the house is owned in the sole name of one partner, the other partner has no rights to it. This may be the couples intention, this intention may be defeated if laws are introduced with regards to cohabiting couples.
I do not believe it is about changing the laws but ensuring that couples are aware of the consequences of the way they chose to live. Another option may be to allow cohabiting couples to “opt out” of what ever laws/obligations are imposed. No matter what parliament decided everyone needs to be aware of their rights. If you have any questions please contact our family team.
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