Marriage v the Common Law myth

With the most popular day for marriage almost upon us, lawyers are trying to raise awareness of the myth that is the “common law marriage”.

Saturday 18th August 2018 is reported to be the most common day to tie the knot. However, the number of people committing to marry has steadily decreased since the 1970’s, with a drop of 3.4% last year alone. We can surmise as to why this is happening, but the fact remains that fewer couples are formalising their relationships by way of marriage or a civil partnership.

Co-habiting couples are officially the fastest growing family type with figures more than doubling in the last two decades. Yet as recently as 2017, studies show that couples still believe that the term “common law marriage” does exist for such an arrangement – there is, in fact, no such thing. This means that many couples entering into a co-habitation arrangement are unaware that their rights are restricted. Indeed, regardless of what they thought was their share in joint assets i.e. the family home, to which they have made significant contributions – if their name is not on the deed to the property they are not necessarily entitled to a share upon the breakdown of the relationship. It matters not the length of the relationship, or whether they have children.

Ultimately we, as lawyers, need to raise awareness of co-habitees of their need for protection for themselves and their families. In the absence of any new legislation, we must make people aware of their lack of rights in order to give them the opportunity to protect themselves by way of, say, the drafting of a co-habitation agreement. Such an agreement is an easy and cost effective way of providing some peace of mind.

Carol Robinson 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