What is a common law marriage?

A 2017 poll conducted by Resolution found that there are 3.3m cohabiting couples. Two-thirds of these couples do not know that legally, ‘common law marriage’ does not exist. The poll was conducted to raise awareness of the lack of legal rights available to cohabiting couples. The amount of unmarried couples living together has doubled from 1.5m in 1996 to 3.3m in 2017. Under the current laws there is very little protection for either party should the relationship break down.

Resolution chair, Nigel Shepherd, has called for change and said that current laws were ‘behind the times’. He said, ‘The Government must listen to the public, legal professionals and a growing number of politicians who all agree that we need reform to provide basic rights to cohabiting couples should they separate’.

The majority of those 2000 adults surveyed agreed that:

  • the legal rights of cohabiting couples who separate are unclear; and
  • there is a need for greater legal protection and awareness about the lack of rights.

What should cohabiting couples be aware of?

Cohabiting unmarried couples:

  1. are not automatically entitled to any of a deceased partners estate, if that partner dies without making a will.
  2. cannot access a deceased partner’s bank account.
  3. have no rights to stay in a partner’s rented property, if asked to leave.
  4. cannot make claims for rights in a partner’s property, maintenance or pension.

Until the law is changed Resolution is urging anyone in a cohabiting relationship to protect themselves by creating a cohabitation agreement and a will, and taking out life insurance.

Make a free cohabitation agreement and will with a 7 day free trial from Rocket Lawyer.

Camilla Johnson

Camilla Johnson is the digital acquisition specialist for Rocket Lawyer UK. She has a law degree from Keele University, a post graduate diploma in professional legal practice and a diploma in digital marketing.