In a recent survey by Resolution, a national organisation of family lawyers, it is said that in the UK today, one out of 5 couples are not married and approximately half of those cohabiting couples have dependant children. It was also found that two in three cohabitants surveyed were unaware that they did not have the same rights as a married couple.
There is a large misconception regarding “common – law marriage rights” with many cohabiting couples believing that living together for a specified period of time would provide them with the same legal protection as a married couple.
There are certain areas of family law where there is very little difference for example in relation to issues of domestic abuse or child arrangements.
In relation to property and other financial issues there are much greater differences. The Court has a much broader scope to address financial issues for a separating married couple than that of an unmarried couple. There is specific statute law relating to financial issues for married couples but there is no similar statutory provision specifically designed for unmarried couples.
Perhaps because of the misconception that there are legal rights acquired by living with a partner for a certain duration it is often the case that cohabitees will not protect their positions in relation to property. Where there are property disputes upon separation, such matters are dealt with under law relating to Trusts which is a very complex area of law.
The purpose of the survey undertaken by Resolution is to try and raise awareness of these potential difficulties. There are ways in which potential disagreements can be alleviated by consideration being given as to what both cohabitees expect to happen whilst they live together and what is to happen in relation to financial matters should they separate. This can be done by way of a formal cohabitation agreement.
It is sometimes difficult to consider the prospect of a relationship breaking down when first living with a new partner but putting an agreement in place really can help the stress and upset of having to deal with complex property matters upon separation when this is likely to be a very emotional time for both parties.
Please contact us if you would like some advice on this area of law.