January 09, 2019
A great many couples live together (co-habit) without being married. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘Common Law’ marriage and you may refer to your partner as a ‘Common Law’ husband or wife.
However, beware - there is no such thing as a ‘Common Law’ marriage in a legal sense. Worryingly, a poll carried out by Resolution, the national family justice organisation, found that two-thirds of people in a co-habiting relationship were not aware of this.
No matter how many years you have lived together, brought up children together or bought property together, you are either legally married or you are not.
If you are not married, this can lead to unexpected problems should you separate or one of you die.
If you separate, you only have the right to make financial claims against your partner in relation to child maintenance and what you have paid towards joint property eg. the house. The court can only look at what you paid in and cannot look at what is ‘fair’ as they would in a divorce. This can cause huge disadvantage to the partner who may have stayed at home with the children rather than work.
If the father does not have his name on the children’s birth certificates, then he will not have ‘parental responsibility’ and so have no rights towards the child.
Similar problems arise if one of you dies without leaving a will. If you have children together, the children would be entitled to the estate of the one who has died, but if you do not have children together, the estate could pass to the deceased partner’s children from a previous relationship, or parents, brothers and sisters, or even distant cousins.
Pudsey Legal can assist and advise on steps which could protect you if think you may be affected by this or if you are going through a separation or bereavement in these circumstances. Please contact Helen Starmer in the Family Department or Carolyn Monaghan in the Probate Department.
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