During Cohabitation Awareness Week 2017 (27 November to 1 December), Sarah Evans, Partner and family lawyer at Coodes Solicitors outlines some of the legal differences between being married and living together.
1. There is no such thing as ‘common law marriage’
Many people still believe that if they have lived together for a period of time they will be ‘common law husband and wife’. This is a myth. There is no such concept in English Law.
2. Former partners are not entitled to maintenance or financial support
Unlike with divorce, there is no entitlement for maintenance or financial support when cohabitees separate.
3. Property law gives much less protection to cohabiting couples
Perhaps the greatest legal difference between married and cohabiting couples is around property issues. Where property is held in one party’s name, the non-owning partner may be left with no protection and no legal interest in the property despite sometimes many years of living together and sharing finances.
4. Married and unmarried people have the same protection from domestic abuse
Someone who is being abused by a partner has the same right to legal protection as someone who is experiencing domestic abuse at the hands of a spouse.
5. A partner whose name is not on a property has no legal right to live there
Generally cohabitees currently have very few rights and one partner does not usually acquire the right to a share in the other’s property just because they live together.
6. Living with someone does not give you a right to a share of their pension
For people living together there is also no entitlement to achieve a share of pensions, as there is for married couples.
7. A cohabitee has no automatic entitlement to a late partner’s assets
A cohabitee is not automatically entitled to any of the assets of a partner who has passed away. In the absence of a Will the state decides who should inherit under the Intestacy Rules. And a cohabitee has no rights under intestacy.
8. The law does not differentiate between married and unmarried couples when deciding who children should live with
When it comes to issues such as which parent children live and spend time with, the law is exactly the same for married and unmarried couples.
9. An unmarried father does not have parental responsibility unless he is named on the birth certificate
A father who is married to a child’s mother at the time of the birth automatically has parental responsibility. Unless he is named on the child’s birth certificate, an unmarried father has no legal status as a father. This means he may not be able to obtain information about the child, such as where the child lives or goes to school, if the family breaks up.
10. If you live with your partner you can give yourself some protection
There are a number of ways that those planning to live together can protect themselves and save any difficulties in the future. A Living Together Agreement can be used to set out the arrangements both in relation to day to day living expenses and the acquisition of property, should the couple separate in future. Such an agreement needs to be backed up by the title documents for any property purchased and should also be reflected in the Will of both people to ensure their wishes are followed in the event of their death.
For advice on any of these issues, please contact the Family Team at Coodes Solicitors on 0800 328 3282.