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The myth of “Common Law” marriage 02/05/2017

Recent figures revealed in a survey of more than 1,000 cohabiting couples that nearly 90% of cohabiting couples do not have a Living Together Agreement (otherwise known as a Cohabitation Agreement) in place. In fact, only 24% of the surveyed couples knew that such agreements even existed.

The report also revealed that 75% of the surveyed couples think that unmarried couples who have been living together for a while have the same legal rights as married couples, which is completely incorrect in law.

ONS figures show that more families involving unmarried than married couples are breaking down for the first time ever. Analysis of the official figures shows that, despite unmarried couples with children making up just 1 in 5 of all parents, they now account for more than 50% of splits which involve children. Same-sex couples with children made up just 0.5% of splits.

Sir Paul Coleridge, a former High Court judge and founder and chairman of the Marriage Foundation, said: "Whenever family breakdown statistics are discussed people assume it means married couples divorcing, but that is not the real mischief. The real mischief is that separating cohabiting (as opposed to divorcing) couples are 4 times more likely to split up".

The UK also has one of the highest levels of family breakdown in the whole of Europe.

Cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples so it is extremely important for them to have some sort of legal document in place to protect themselves, particularly where there are young children involved. Such documents can take the form of a Living Together Agreement (Cohabitation Agreement), a Trust Deed or even a Pre Nuptial Agreement if the couple plan on getting married soon. Unmarried couples should also have a Will as they won't automatically inherit the other party's assets on death as a married person would. Tax planning is also crucial.

So what does the future hold for the growing number of unmarried couples in the UK? Will the law bring such couples in line with married couples? The answer, sadly, is no. The Law Commission has on several occasions over the years recommended changes to the existing law but, for now, none of those recommendations have been accepted by the Government. A briefing paper dated 9 March 2017 titled Common Law Marriage and Cohabitation is an interesting and helpful read on this topic:

With the Government refusing to make any changes to the existing law at present, cohabiting couples must take control of their own, and their children's future, by making sure they are properly protected with the correct legal document.

For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.

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Manor Law Ltd, trading as Manor Law Family Solicitors, is a registered company in England and Wales - number 07977350, and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority - Hertford office SRA number 567506 and City of London office SRA number 568637. Copyright © Manor Law, 2016. All rights reserved.

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