Common law marriage splits explained
What’s yours is mine – or is it?
IT’S not every couple that can look forward to a Happy New Year – with January a popular month for moving on and moving out.
A common time of year for divorces or calling it a day when it comes to broken relationships, family lawyers at Buckles Solicitors LLP are gearing up for a busy time.
And one area that can appear more complicated to deal with than it may first seem is what is often referred to as ‘common law marriage’ – living with a partner for years without marrying.
Buckles Solicitors family lawyer Nikki Aston said: “All too often couples refer to “common law marriage” and believe that after living with someone for a certain amount of time entitles them to the same rights as those of a married couple. Unfortunately, this is not true.”
Research from relationship charity, One Plus One, showed that 47 per cent of the people they interviewed believed in the notion of “common law marriage”.
Recent figures published by the Office of National Statistics revealed that there are now 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK – a number which has more than doubled over the last 20 years.
Nikki added: “Sadly, some of those relationships will end, and the current cohabitation law does not give those couples the rights they think they have.
“Resolution (a national organisation of family lawyers and professionals who are committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes) have been campaigning for change in the law to protect cohabiting couples.
“They consider that as modern society is changing, as well as the way people live, the law needs to catch up with this. Whether a couple chooses to marry or not it is always best to be aware of the position and take steps to try and secure your affairs.
Where cohabiting couples jointly own their family home, in English law the property will automatically be divided equally – even if one party contributed more to its purchase (unless there is a written legal agreement at the time of purchase saying in what proportions each party own). This can be challenged in court, however it’s likely to be costly and there is no guarantee they will win.”
Legal issues to consider if you are in a ‘common law marriage’:
- Draw up what is known as a ‘Cohabitation Agreement’ – a contract between you and your partner which sets out how you will deal with property, bank accounts, debts and so on, and what should happen in the event of a relationship breakdown. Also, if you own property, or plan to purchase a property jointly, it may be that you and your partner are making unequal contributions.
- A Cohabitation Agreement may seem unromantic and an unnecessary outlay when you are happy in a relationship. However, if your relationship ends, the expense, stress and heartache of going to court will be far more costly, and can be avoided with a bit of planning and pragmatism.
- A ‘Declaration of Trust’ can also be drawn up, which will set out the contributions you have both made, so that if the property is sold, you will both be able to recover what you put in. This is especially important when couples enter into new relationships and may have a lump sum e.g. from a divorce that they have spent a lot of time and money to secure. This document needs to be drafted and prepared properly, with both parties obtaining independent legal advice in order for it to be legally binding.