The common myth of the common law marriage

The age old myth of a “common law marriage” is still very much alive in 2017. There are many unmarried couples who have lived together for a number of years who still believe that because of this relationship status they have similar rights to the property and income of the other as married couples do. Unfortunately this is not the case yet many people still wrongly believe this myth.

A recent poll from YouGov surveyed more that 1,000 cohabiting couples across the UK and the results showed that there is a staggering lack of awareness and take up of wealth protection measures. 76% had not heard of a cohabitation agreement – a contract parties can enter into to regulate the ownership of property, income and capital and how this should be divided on the breakdown of a relationship. Of those who were aware of this agreement only 10% had such an agreement in place. The study also showed that more than a third (35%) of cohabiting couples were unaware that if the property is owned beneficially as joint tenants, the value of the home is typically split 50:50 regardless of how much each contributed. This seems alarming given that only half of those surveyed who own their home as joint tenants contributed equal amounts to the deposit for their home.

The biggest find of the study was that 75% of those surveyed believe unmarried couples who live together should have the same legal rights as married couples. There is currently a Bill going through Parliament which looks to address the disparity in law between how property is divided between unmarried couples on the breakdown of a relationship compared to those couples who divorce. The Cohabitation Rights Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords in December 2014. However, there has been little progress since with no new date as yet as to when it will have a renewed second reading.

If you are experiencing a relationship breakdown, regardless of whether you are married or not, it is important that sound legal advice is sought from the outset as to the procedure involved and the extent of entitlement to property and possessions. At Barker Gotelee our family department can in most circumstances offer a free initial consultation to discuss the matter at hand.

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.

Ipswich Family Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email