As family lawyers we regularly work with couples whose relationships have, sadly, broken down. Increasingly these couples are cohabiting – living together but unmarried. They are the fastest growing family type, with recent figures showing there are over 3.3m cohabiting couples in the UK.
Yet despite the commonly held myth, there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage,’ and these couples have little or no legal protection should they separate. Under the current law it’s possible to live with someone for decades – even to have children together – and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility for their partner.
As part of our national Cohabitation Awareness Week, Resolution – the family justice organisation I belong to – has joined with a range of organisations in calling for legal protection for these increasing numbers of people in the event of separation. However, until the law changes, cohabiting couples need to be aware of their lack of rights, and consider taking measures to protect themselves in case their relationship breaks down.
One such measure is a cohabitation agreement, a document that sets out what will happen to finances and property if the worst happens. At the very least, people cohabiting should find out about their rights – or lack of them – if they end up separating. More information is available on the Resolution website.