Cohabitation is the fastest growing family type in the UK! Most people today shy away from the legal formalities of marriage and many shudder at the possibilities of having to endure a stressful divorce if things don’t work out. Despite this many people who are unmarried but live with their partners do not fully understand their legal positions and most importantly most people have no idea what rights they would have if they were to separate in due course. Many people who co-habit go on to have children together and even purchase their home.
There is a common belief that people who live together have rights against each other under the myth of the “common law marriage”. It is commonly assumed that the law provides protection for a fair ‘financial settlement’ if things go wrong. However, unfortunately it is sad to confirm that there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’. A couple is either legally married or not. The law is very clear that cohabiting couples are not considered to be married. This means that the financial settlement is totally different and may appear to be unfair to say the very least.
Under the current family law, if a cohabitation relationship comes to an end, one partner who has contributed significantly more than the other in terms of a deposit to purchase the property, monthly mortgage repayments and bills, must hand over 50 per cent of the property to the other party. It is also possible that one partner, whose name is not on the legal title but who has made substantial contributions, both financial and non-financial, including staying at home to bring up the children, ends up with nothing.
The law surrounding cohabitation can result in terribly unfair results, in particular in cases where there are minor children involved. Often cases are complex, lengthy and the resulting litigation is expensive for both parties. Yet today there are more and more people living together and choosing not to get married or enter into civil partnerships. Society is changing rapidly and our legal system needs to catch up to accommodate the needs of the people.
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