Cohabitation and the legal rights (or lack of them) enjoyed by unmarried couples have been covered in detail on this blog over the years. Cohabitation is when couples live together as man or wife, with or without children, but without being married. Some people call it common law marriage, but a common law marriage has no legal status.
Because of the myths and misconceptions that surround cohabitation, I groaned when I read the newspapers today. Alex Reid, the cage fighter and Celebrity Big Brother winner, has announced the birth of his daughter, born on Father’s Day. Mr Reid’s partner, Chantelle Houghton, is a fellow Celebrity Big Brother winner and reality TV star. They are not married, but are believed to be engaged. The relationship is reportedly rocky and, if the rumours are true, I suspect that the odds on the couple surviving together for another year are not great. The birth of this child is to be celebrated. But I wish it wasn’t such “hot news”, and I do so for a serious reason.
On Wednesday 20 June 2012 I will be appearing on This Morning to discuss cohabitation, and to field questions from the programme’s viewers. I don’t know yet what I will be asked. However having read the news reports about Alex Reid and Chantelle Houghton, and browsed the programme’s Facebook page, I can guess…
More than two million couples cohabit in England and Wales. The case of Jones v Kernott, which was heard in the Supreme Court in 2011, centred upon a property dispute between two former cohabitees, and made national headlines. Even so, it is incredible how little people know about the legal implications of cohabitation – and I am sure that the feelgood magazine stories about celebrities don’t help. Only this weekend I was having a coffee with a friend who is intelligent and well-educated, but who also seemed to be of the opinion that if couples live together, they acquire legal rights similar to those enjoyed by married couples.
Cohabitees acquire no automatic rights to anything akin to a divorce settlement. True, a mother may be able to make a claim on behalf of her child, under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, which enables the Court to make orders for periodical payments, lump sums, settlement of property and transfers of property. However she has no automatic rights to make a claim over the property of her former partner, unless she contributed to it. And even if she did, it can be a long hard road – as the recent case of Geary v Rankine demonstrates.
So when you see Chantelle and Alex and their new baby splashed all over the glossy magazines, remember that they have sold their story and are making a lot of money from it. Unless you are as financially independent as you are financially secure, please don’t be tempted to copy those in the public eye. As many of my clients have been alarmed to discover over the years, it is dangerous to live with a wealthier partner and trust that you and any children you may have will be provided for forever.
If you can, please watch This Morning on Wednesday and contact the programme with your questions if you have any. I will post the clip with my answers on this blog later in the week.
Update: you can view the segment from This Morning at the bottom of this post.