Does common law marriage exist?

What legal protection is there for unmarried couples who separate?

In England and Wales, there is no legal recognition of "common law marriage." Couples who live together without being married do not have the same legal rights and protections as married couples or couples in a civil partnership. This means that they have fewer rights when it comes to dividing finances, maintenance claims, pension rights, and inheritance rights.

In England and Wales, unmarried couples can separate informally, but to end the relationship formally there is not the same legal process as married couples. In Scotland, since 2006, laws have provided certain protections for cohabiting couples, such as the sharing of household goods and financial provisions for decisions made during the relationship.

Despite the social usage of the term "common-law marriage" in England and Wales to refer to unmarried, cohabiting heterosexual couples, it does not confer any of the rights or obligations enjoyed by spouses or civil partners. Unmarried partners are recognised for certain purposes in legislation, such as means-tested benefits but not to provide with claims that can be made on separation.  These leaves the rights determined by complex trust law which can be difficult and expensive to apply.

Research suggests that it is the greatest growth of family type in England and Wales, with the number of couples choosing to live together without getting married or entering a civil partnership increasing.

Cohabiting does not avoid many of the legal issues that couples face when separating to resolve their financial issues or children arrangements, but not being married or in a civil partnership can mean that resolving these issues through the court can be much more difficult and expensive. Mediation can help in this situation.  If you would like to know more about how mediation can help you resolve these issues, contact us at hello@familymandm.co.uk or book a free call through our website.

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