Co-habiting couples warned of common law marriage ‘myth’ and lack of protection during separation

Warning to co-habiting couples over the legal rights they have. Stock image. Picture: KATARZYNA BIAL

Warning to co-habiting couples over the legal rights they have. Stock image. Picture: KATARZYNA BIALASIEWICZ / GETTY IMAGES / ISTOCKPHOTO - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Rising numbers of co-habiting couples have prompted a Suffolk law firm to issue a warning over the “myth” of common law marriage.

Just under one in 10 (9.8%) people in the UK are cohabiting (living together but unmarried), up from 6.8% in 2002, amid rising divorce rates, official figures show.

Burnett Barker Solicitors’, a family lawyer specialists based in Bury St Edmunds, have warned that, under the current law, it is possible to live with someone for decades, have children together, but leave without taking any responsibility for their partner.

“Contrary to popular myth there is no such thing as ‘common law marriage’, leaving co-habiting partners with very limited legal protection should their relationship end,” a spokesman said.

The warning comes ahead of next week’s national Cohabitation Awareness Week.

Sonja Williams, a family law solicitor at Burnett Barker, added: “There is no reason why co-habiting couples should not be afforded basic rights to protect both their financial and emotional investments.


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“As family lawyers and a member of Resolution, we are committed to constructive, non-confrontational resolutions of family disputes, and one way to prevent disputes in this area is with a legally-binding Cohabitation Agreement.

“Agreements such as this can prevent any lengthy, distressing & expensive disputes from arising should one partner subsequently move out or if the relationship breaks down.”

The firm has produced a free ‘guide to drafting a cohabitation agreement’, which contains an overview of the benefits of Cohabitation Agreements, sometimes referred to as a Living Together Agreement, and what they entail.

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Similar to a Contract, this agreement sets out who owns what and how both joint and personal assets should be shared between partners. As well as the property itself, these include things like furniture, bank accounts, cars, children, pets and utility bills.

The PDF guide also contains top tips for items to include that couples may not have considered, such as:

• Information about personal finances, including mortgage payments and bills, loans and credit cards and pensions

• Details of any children, both together and / or from outside of the relationship and who is responsible for them financially

• Information on savings and whether these are shared/personal

• Who owns what in terms of furnishings, equipment, cars etc

• What couples intend to do with the above, as well as the property itself, should you stop living together.

Burnett Barker Solicitors offer a number of fixed fee services, including Cohabitation Agreements.

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