Statistics published in November 2017 showed that the cohabiting couple is the second largest family type and the fastest growing. In 2017 there were 3.3 million such families; in 1996 there were 1.5 million.
Resolution, an organisation of specialist family lawyers, commissioned a poll of over 2,000 British adults to mark Cohabitation Awareness Week. The survey results are extremely worrying and show that all too many cohabiting couples still do not understand how the law relates to them – or,more importantly, how it doesn’t!
It emerged that 27% believed that, if they lived together for more than 2 years, unmarried couples would have similar rights to married couples if they split up. That’s completely wrong; unmarried couples have no claims against one another arising out of their relationship. Some 37% believed that unmarried couples who lived together for more than 2 years benefited from “common law marriage”. Wrong again; there’s no such thing as common law marriage.
An overwhelming majority (84%) agreed that the government should ensure that unmarried cohabitants understand that they don’t have the same protection as they would if they were married should they separate or if one of them were to die.
At Stokes Partners, our experienced and expert family team see all too often the real hardship that can be suffered when a relationship ends and one party has relied on the assumption of being a common law spouse. If they lived in a property owned by the other party they may well have no right whatsoever to share in that property regardless of the length of their relationship.
Our private client team are all too familiar with the situation of a cohabitant whose partner owned their home and who dies intestate. If their partner made a Will then they can be provided for but if they didn’t, a cohabitee has no automatic claim on the estate under intestacy laws. If there’s no Will therefore not only will the surviving partner suffer the trauma of bereavement, they may have to take lengthy and expensive court proceedings to achieve a share of their partner’s estate and possibly even just to ensure they can continue living in their own home.
There’s no doubt that a real need exists for those who choose to live together without marrying to be properly informed about their rights (or rather the lack of them). Family law specialists have however been raising this issue for many years and nothing has changed.
If you’re living with your partner and you’re unsure about your position the team at Stokes Partners can advise you on where you stand and what steps you may be able to take to protect your position. We can provide you with information on property ownership and help you make a Will to ensure that your estate goes where you want it to. We offer realistic, pragmatic and cost effective advice and it may well be that taking some simple steps now could save you from expensive litigation and a great deal of heartache in the future.