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I Live with My Partner but We’re Not Married: What Are My Rights?

I Live with My Partner but We’re Not Married: What Are My Rights?

The Office for National Statistics published a review in 2017 which revealed that the number of unmarried couples living together has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017. This makes households of cohabiting couples the second largest family type in the UK, and the fastest growing. If this applies to you, it is important to know exactly what legal rights and entitlements you have.

What is a ‘common law marriage’?

In short, a common law marriage is a myth. Contrary to the popular belief, living together for seven years or more does not give couples the same legal rights as if they had married. A recent survey found two thirds of cohabiting couples believed this so-called common law marriage gave them some financial entitlements in the event of a separation.

Cohabiting VS Marriage – The Key Differences:

1. If a partner dies without leaving a will, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything - unless the couple jointly own property. A married partner would inherit all or some of the estate.

2. An unmarried partner who stays at home to care for children cannot make any claims in their own right for property, maintenance or pension-sharing.

3. Cohabiting partners cannot access their partner's bank account if they die - whereas married couples may be allowed to withdraw the balance providing the amount is small.

4. An unmarried couple can separate without going to court, but married couples need to go to a court and get divorced to end the marriage formally.

5. Cohabiting couples are not legally obliged to support each other financially, but married partners have a legal duty to support each other.

6. If you are the unmarried partner of a tenant, you have no rights to stay in the accommodation if you are asked to leave - but each married partner has the right to live in the "matrimonial home".

What should you do if you don’t want to get married?

There is no doubt that society has changed and as such, these laws are falling behind the times. It is possible to live with a partner for 20 or more years and have children together yet not have any legal protection of ‘joint assets’ or any financial obligation for the other should the relationship break down.

If the upward trend continues, cohabiting couples may one day soon outnumber those who legally marry. In the meantime, to protect yourself from unexpected financial situations, it is worth considering seeking the advice of a solicitor to draw up a cohabitation agreement. This is a legal document that details the entitlements of each partner in the event of a separation. Other options to consider to ensure a partner has similar financial entitlements to a legal spouse upon the death of the other are the drawing up of a will; or taking out a life insurance policy and naming your partner as a beneficiary.

 If you’d like to find out about arranging a cohabitation agreement with your partner, or would just like to find out where you stand, contact Lawson-West’s Family Team today by calling 0116 212 1000 for our Leicester Office, 01858 445 480 for our Market Harborough Office or 0116 212 1080 for our Wigston Office.  Alternatively complete our express contact form and we will contact you directly. 

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