Rights of unmarried couples and 'common law' marriage

Listed Under: Blog

Recently, the Law Society had a Valentine’s themed Solicitor Chat about common law marriage and the rights of unmarried couples. Here is a summary of the main points discussed and how we can help you at JW Hughes & Co.

What does “common law marriage” mean and is it legally valid?
There is no such thing as legally recognised “common law marriage” in England & Wales. Cohabiting couples who later separate often find that the law does not achieve fairness or meet their needs. Cohabiting couples should therefore consider entering into a Cohabitation Agreement.

How do the rights of married and unmarried couples differ?
The laws relating to married and unmarried couples differ greatly. Those who are married have more legal rights both during the marriage, upon separation and on the death of their partner. There are some legal remedies available on separation for unmarried couples, but the court has less discretion than when dealing with those who are married.

What is a Cohabitation Agreement and what are the benefits of unmarried couples having one?
A Cohabitation Agreement sets out the terms on which a couple will live together. It will list their assets at the time they move in together and will also set out what will happen if the relationship fails and they separate. It is an agreement that unmarried couples can enter to set out how they will share their finances while living together or what happens if one of them becomes ill, dies, or they split up. For an agreement to be valid, both parties need to enter it freely and voluntarily. The agreement needs to be in the form of a deed and each person needs to sign it. The agreement needs to be kept up to date for major life changes. It affords a couple the opportunity to have a greater degree of security and certainty on their financial relationship in the event of separation, addressing everything from joint property and bank accounts, to pension and death in service arrangements.

How can unmarried cohabiting couples make sure their children are protected?
The law offers protection for children under the Children Act. If you are separating and you are concerned about meeting the needs of your children, speak to our family lawyers about the options available to you in relation to financial provision for them. If the father is named on the birth certificate, both parents share legal parental responsibility for the children. If there is a dispute relating to the care arrangements for the children, you have the same protection as married couples.

 How else can we advise cohabiting couples on protecting their assets and each other? We can advise you on a range matters that can be included in a Cohabitation Agreement. Also, we can advise you in relation to pre-nuptial agreements if you subsequently decide to marry. It is also important to seek advice from one of our lawyers in relation to making a Will if you wish for financial provision to be secure for your partner on your death.

For more information about Cohabitation Agreements and advice from an experienced family lawyer, contact us today on 01492 874774 or 01492 596596.