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04/04/2017 By: Alison Bull
A recent YouGov survey commissioned by us here at Mills & Reeve highlights that many people who are unmarried but live with their partners do not fully understand their legal positions and have no idea what rights they would have if they were to separate in due course.
Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK. ONS figures show that between 1996 and 2016, numbers more than doubled from 1.5 million to 3.3 million – accounting for 17.5 per cent of families in the UK.
There is a widely held belief that people who live together have rights against each other under the myth of the “common law marriage”. People think that they are protected when they own property and there is an assumption that the law provides a "fair financial remedy" if a cohabiting relationship ends. However, there is no such thing as a common law spouse (you are either legally married to your partner or you are not) and the outcome for those who are not married can often feel very unfair indeed.
Under the current law, it is possible that, at the end of a relationship, one partner who has contributed significantly more than the other in terms of a deposit to purchase the property, monthly mortgage repayments and bills, must hand over 50 per cent of the property to the other party. It is also possible that one partner, whose name is not on the legal title but who has made substantial contributions, both financial and non-financial, including staying at home to bring up the children, ends up with nothing.
More than 1,000 cohabiting people/ individuals across England were surveyed. The results revealed:
The law surrounding cohabitation can result in terribly unfair results and cases are often complex, lengthy and expensive. Yet there are more and more people living together and choosing not to get married or enter into civil partnerships. Society is changing and the legal system needs to catch up.
Find out more about our survey and the rights of cohabiting couples by viewing our Myth of the Common Law Marriage web page and look out for more blogs this week on steps unmarried couples can take to protect their financial position and avoid costly disputes if their relationship breaks down.