Changing families - are you protected?
The stereotypical family in the UK is changing. The fastest growing family type is cohabiting couples, where people are choosing to live together and not marry. We are often approached with questions surrounding common law marriage and what protection it gives to a cohabiting couple when they separate. The simple answer is that common law marriage does not exist – it’s a myth.
Rather concerning, a poll, carried out by family law group Resolution, found that two thirds of cohabiting couples believe common law marriage exists. As a result, millions of unmarried couples are potentially at severe financial risk.
Marriage vs cohabiting
The law differs significantly for separation, depending on whether you are married. The simple difference is that when you marry, you are legally agreeing to take care of the other. There is no obligation when you are cohabiting, even if it is a long relationship or you have children together.
If you have made a significant financial contribution to your former partner’s assets, then you may have a beneficial interest under Trust Law by virtue of your contribution rather than your relationship.
If you have children together, then you have an obligation to ensure your children’s needs are met, but not necessarily those of your former partner (even if they previously gave up work to care for those children).
There are also implications on death. If you die without a will and are unmarried, your family would inherit all of your solely owned assets, rather than your grieving partner.
So how can you protect yourself?
If you chose to live with your partner, you can enter into a cohabitation agreement. This would formalise what would happen to your assets if you were to separate. You should also consider reviewing your will.
But what if you have separated? You should take legal advice on your individual circumstances to consider what options may be available to you.
If you are in the process of separating and need advice on the next steps, please contact Natalie Suret, Solicitor, Family.
Published: 21 Feb 2018