The concept of a ‘common law marriage’ has long been assumed to exist by the population at large, being that unmarried partners inherit various rights and obligations towards one another by virtue of their cohabiting relationship. In fact, recent research by Resolution has revealed that two thirds of cohabiting couples share this belief.
The problem is that the concept of a ‘common law marriage’ does not exist in England and Wales.
An unmarried partner has no rights to a share of his or her partner’s assets as a result of their relationship, not even the home they occupy together.
The lack of legal protection for cohabiting couples is resulting in an increasing number of acrimonious legal battles. There is now much enthusiasm amongst lawyers, judges and others for a change in the law in this area and the decision of the Court appeal in a recent case, involving an unmarried woman’s entitlement to bereavement damages, has once again opened up the debate about the rights of unmarried partners.
It seems that more and more people are now choosing to cohabit as opposed to marrying, and cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in this country. Research produced by the Office of National Statistics shows that between 1996 and 2016, the number of cohabiting couple families grew from 1.5 million to 3.3 million.
This leaves a huge number of people in such relationships with limited rights and even less understanding of where they stand.