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Common law spouses: The truth behind the myths

According to the Office for National Statistics, more than 6 million couples in the UK cohabit.

This is over twice as many as did 20 years ago. Many people who do cohabit believe that if they separate from their partner they have rights as a “common law spouse”, especially if they have been together for many years.

This belief is incorrect and when an unmarried couple separate one partner can end up leaving the relationship with virtually nothing or be faced with lengthy and costly disputes with their former partner.

When a married couple divorce or a civil partnership is dissolved, the Courts have the power to redress unfairness and any financial inequalities between the parties.

So, for example, a wife who has given up work or reduced her hours and salary to care for the family can expect to have her financial needs met, provided there are sufficient assets.  Even if the family home is owned by her husband, the Court can order that the property be transferred to her or she receives capital to assist her in finding a new home. A woman in similar circumstances but who is not married to her partner is in a very different position.  She has no right to receive maintenance for herself from her former partner nor does she have an automatic right to a share in the family home.  As with a married mother, she is entitled to receive maintenance for the children of the relationship from their father.

So long as the law remains unchanged (many groups are campaigning for couples who live together to have similar rights to those who are married) if you are considering moving in with a partner it is wise to consider taking advice on drawing up a Cohabitation or Living Together Agreement setting out who gets what percentage of the house, furniture and other assets.

Whilst it may not seem the most romantic way to begin a new chapter in your relationship, it is likely to save you both a lot of heartache and distress if your relationship subsequently breaks down.

If you have any Family Law concerns, please call a member of our Family Law team on 01332 340 211.

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