Common Law Marriage – peculiarly persistent myth

Arieta Batirerega (Student)

A common law marriage is a term used where a couple live together for a period of time and holds themselves out to friends, family and the community as “being married” but without ever going through a formal ceremony or getting a marriage license.

Over the last few decades, family life and personal relationships in modern UK have changed considerably from same sex marriage to interracial marriage or young people sharing a flat. The fastest growing family are cohabiting couples with 3.3 million families in 2017. Cohabitants do not have any legal status and when relationships come to an end there are no automatic rights in most circumstances for either partner. For example, if one partner dies the other does not automatically inherit their estate.

According to a British Social Attitudes Survey, many people think that unmarried cohabiting couple have the same legal rights as a married couple. It suggests that households with children are more likely to have a misconception about their rights than those with no children. This misunderstanding can have a negative impact on the decisions people make about their lives. When relationships breakdown cohabitants can end up losing their home and income. This especially effects women who are often financially dependent on their partners.

However, there is now the option of entering into a civil partnership for those who wish to form a legal union without a traditional wedding. More awareness is needed on this subject

What is the Government doing to help cohabitant couples?

In Scotland, cohabitants who separate or in cases where a partner dies are given a set of limited rights. In England and Wales, there is little sign of progress by the Government, as there are no plans for the second reading of the cohabitation rights bill in the House of Lords.

As legislation plays an important role in addressing the problems that cohabitant couples face, it is equally important for the wider society and the public to work together in a combined effort to raise awareness about this issue.

SULAC can provide free legal advice on all family matters. Please call 01782 294800 for an appointment



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