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Common-Law Marriage “Myth” Puts Co-habiting Couples at Risk

Cohabitation is the fastest growing family type in the UK, with the number of unmarried couples living together more doubling from 1.5m in 1996 to 3.3m in 2017. 

However, family justice organisation Resolution has warned that many of these couples could be at financial risk because of a lack of understanding of the legal system, and has called for a change in the law.

A recent poll conducted by ComRes found that:

  • Two-thirds of people in cohabiting relationships are unaware that there is no such as thing as ‘common-law marriage’;
  • Four in five cohabitants agree that the legal rights of cohabiting couples who separate are unclear;
  • Seventy-nine per cent of the public agree that there is a need for greater legal protection for unmarried couples upon separation;
  • Eighty-four per cent of the public agree that the Government should take steps to ensure unmarried cohabiting couples are aware that they don’t have the same legal protection as married couples.

“Today’s poll shows that many still believe in the myth that they will get financial rights through ‘common-law marriage’” commented Resolution chair Nigel Shepherd. “This means millions of cohabiting couples are unaware that they don’t have automatic claims, for example on the property they live in, if they split up. This makes it less likely they’ll take steps to protect themselves.”

“In many cases, this lack of protection affects women more than men, as they are still more likely to have taken time off work to raise children,” he said.

“Society has changed – it’s time for our laws to catch up,” he added.

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