House of Commons briefing paper on “common law marriage” and cohabitation


On 14 June 2018, the House of Commons library published a briefing paper that provides general information on how the law applies to cohabitants. The briefing paper includes information about the number of cohabiting couples, the Law Commission’s proposals for reform and calls for reform in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

More and more couples are choosing to live together in a cohabiting relationship rather than marry or enter into a civil partnership. However, when a cohabiting relationship breaks down the current law is very restrictive on how assets should be divided between the parties. There is no such thing as a “common law marriage” and this is the case no matter how long the couple lived together and even if they had children together. Therefore cohabiting couples do not have any right to claim on the other’s pension or to receive any financial support from their ex-partner. The division of any jointly held assets is decided under Property Law and does not take into account the needs of either party.

Many family law practitioners have been calling for years for the law to be changed to give cohabiting couples more rights when their relationships break down. In July 2007 the Law Commission published a report which considered the financial consequences of ending cohabiting relationships. The Law Commission recommended the introduction of a new statutory scheme of financial relief on separation, based on the contributions made to the relationship by the parties.

In March 2008, the Labour Government announced that it would be taking no action to implement the Law Commission’s recommendations until research on the cost and effectiveness of a similar scheme recently implemented in Scotland could be studied. In April 2018, the current Government said that it would consider how to proceed in relation to the proposals in the context of any further reforms to the family justice system. To date there has been no further news on the subject but the briefing paper can be viewed here

For anyone who is unmarried and experiencing a relationship breakdown it is important that legal advice is sought from the outset in order to prepare for the future. At Barker Gotelee our family team can offer a free initial consultation in most circumstances to discuss the options available and the likely costs involved.

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

Suffolk Family Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email bg@barkergotelee.co.uk