Archive for March 1, 2017

Unmarried cohabitees – the myth of the ‘common law marriage’

Did you assume that when unmarried couples have lived together for two years or more they are automatically entitled to financial and property rights as a ‘common law wife’ or a ‘common law husband’ if they separate? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you are not alone. Many people believe this, but it is not true in England and Wales (NB the rules are rather different in Scotland).

Unfortunately, this misunderstanding can lead to a good deal of conflict when cohabitees split up. For example, did you know that on separation:

  • Cohabitees have no right to ask for maintenance for themselves from their ex-partner
  • Cohabitees have no automatic right to make a legal claim against a property owned by their ex-partner, unless they can show that they have acquired an interest in it by making a financial or other contribution
  • Cohabitees have no automatic right to claim a share in the money, savings or investments owned by their ex-partner in their sole name
  • Cohabitees have no right to ask for a share of their ex-partner’s pension
  • Cohabitees may be left in a very difficult position if their ex-partner dies first without having made a will.

However, cohabitees can:

  • Ask for child maintenance to be paid by their ex-partner, and if this is not agreed an application can be made to the Child Maintenance Service and a formula will apply.

It is becoming much more usual for couples to live together without getting married, and so it is more important than ever that they think in advance about what would happen if they were to split up. One possibility is to think about making a ‘Living Together Agreement’ that spells out what you would both like to happen in the event of a separation. This might not cover all the eventualities, but it would be a starting point.

However, the reality is that many cohabitees who have lived together for many years, and may have had children with their partner, are completely taken by surprise when the worst happens and the relationship ends and they discover to their dismay that they may have very few ‘rights’, but a lot of ‘responsibilities’!

Here at CFMS, our mediators are very experienced in helping separating cohabitees to put in place their own sensible agreements about the arrangements for their children, and about what should happen to their homes, bank accounts, personal possessions and other assets.

We encourage each client to take independent legal advice about their separation agreements so that they have a proper understanding of their rights and responsibilities. In this way, it is to be hoped that expensive, time-consuming and stressful litigation can be avoided, as the law relating to cohabitees rights is notoriously complex.

If you are unmarried and separating from your ex-partner, contact us for further information about how mediation  could help you both to work out a practical way forward for the whole family.

In addition, we can give you lots of information about the FREE Separated Parents Information Programme, which can be extremely helpful for all parents who are separating, regardless of whether they are married or not.