Two thirds of people living together do not understand that there is no such thing as ‘common law marriage’, Resolution has claimed.
According to this popular myth, living together without marriage bestows legal rights equivalent to a marriage after a period of time. But this is not the case and cohabitants in fact have no automatic rights and very limited legal options should the relationship come to an end.
Cohabitation is now the fastest-growing family type in the UK according to recent statistics. No less than 3.3 million couples have no marriage certificate: more than twice the number in 1996.
Resolution commissioned market research firm Comres to conduct a national survey. They polled a representative sample of 2,000 adults. In addition to more than 60 per cent saying they believed the common law marriage myth, a decisive four in five said they thought the legal right cohabitants do have were less than clear and nearly 80 per cent agreed with the organisation that cohabitants should be given more protection under the law. Eighty-four per cent said they wanted the government to do more to inform cohabitants of their true legal status.
A now single mother called Yvonne described her devastation:
“I was shocked to find out, that after five kids together and being with my partner for more than a decade that I was entitled to nothing when the relationship broke down. I was no longer just dealing with a break up – but with the fallout of not being legally entitled to share in any of what I thought were our joint assets.”
The survey results were launched at the beginning of Cohabitation Awareness Week, which will feature a series of events designed to raise awareness of the legal risks associated with living together. Resolution has campaigned for the introduction of increased legal protections for cohabitants for a number of years.
Stowe Family Law Partner Graham Coy, a member of Resolution, said:
“For decades the law in England Wales, as opposed to the law in Scotland, has been in desperate need for reform. Not only is there a seriously worrying lack of awareness as to what happens when a couple who are not married break up but also what legal rights and protection they have are woefully inadequate.”
“To be blunt, the law is way behind changes in society generally. The research shows there is an urgent need for Parliament to act and if it did there would be widespread support.”
Resolution Chair Nigel Shepherd added:
“Today’s poll shows that many still believe in the myth that they will get financial rights through ‘common-law marriage’. This means millions of cohabiting couples are unaware that they don’t have automatic claims, for example on the property they live in, if they split up. This makes it less likely they’ll take steps to protect themselves.”
Resolution is an association of family lawyers committed to a “constructive, non-confrontational approach to family law matters.”