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Millions of Couples at Severe Financial Risk due to ‘Common-Law Marriage' Myth

22 January 2018 Written by Catherine Dow Category: Family Law

Millions of couples at severe financial risk due to ‘common-law marriage' myth

A Poll, marking Cohabitation Awareness Week (which was held in December 2017) , underlines couples’ misunderstanding of law Millions of unmarried couples living together are unaware that they are at severe financial risk as a result of the current legal system, Resolution has warned. A poll of over 2,000 British adults, conducted by ComRes and commissioned by Resolution, to mark Cohabitation Awareness Week, has highlighted the misunderstanding of many cohabiting couples of the law in this area. The poll found that:
  • A quarter of Britons (27 per cent) wrongly believe that, after living together for more than two years, unmarried couples have similar rights to married couples if they break up
  • Nearly two in five British adults (37 per cent) wrongly think it is true that unmarried couples who have lived together for more than two years benefit from what is known as a 'common law marriage'
  • More than four in five Britons (84 per cent) agree that the government should take steps to ensure unmarried cohabitating couples are aware they do not have the same legal protection as married couples if they separate, or if one of them should die.
Statistics published by the Office for National Statistics in November 2017 revealed that the cohabiting couple is the second largest family type and the fastest growing, having more than doubled from 1.5 million families in 1996 to 3.3 million families in 2017. This, said the ONS, may be explained by an increasing trend to cohabit instead of marry, or to cohabit before marriage, particularly at younger ages. Resolution chair Nigel Shepherd says the law needs to change, as the poll results show it "is falling desperately behind the times".

"[The] poll shows that many still believe in the myth that they will get financial rights through 'common-law marriage'. This means millions of cohabiting couples are unaware that they don't have automatic claims, for example on the property they live in, if they split up. This makes it less likely they'll take steps to protect themselves.

"In many cases, this lack of protection affects women more than men, as they are still more likely to have taken time off work to raise children.

"The Government must listen to the public, legal professionals and a growing number of politicians who all agree that we need reform to provide basic rights to cohabiting couples should they separate.

"Society has changed – it's time for our laws to catch up."

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