Figures recently published by the Office for National Statistics show that cohabiting households are the fastest growing family type. There are currently 3.3 million cohabiting families in 2017 compared to 1.5 million in 1996.
However, recent research carried out on behalf of Resolution found that two-thirds of cohabiting couples wrongly believe "common-law marriage" laws exist when dividing up finances. This is not the case and the law does not provide protection for cohabiting couples in the same way that it does for those who are married.
It is possible for somebody to live with another person for many years, share their life with them and raise a family but at the end of the relationship have no financial claim in respect of the assets or income built up during the relationship.
Although the law has yet to catch up with the change in society there are some steps that couples who are living together or who are planning on living together can take to provide themselves with some protection.
- Preparing a Living Together Agreement or a Cohabitation Agreement which can cover issues such as who is to pay the bills, the operation of bank accounts and it can detail how any property should be divided in the future should the relationship end.
- Obtaining a Declaration of Trust, if a property is to be purchased jointly, to set out how any sale proceeds will be divided in the future if you split up, for example.
- Making a Will as, if a cohabitee dies without making a Will, the surviving partner is not classed as next of kin, so they would not automatically have a right to your share of a property or possessions.
Richard Dilks is a specialist Family Law solicitor and a member of Resolution, and can provide advice to those who are planning on cohabiting or are in a cohabiting relationship. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01603 660 811.
Resolution is helping to highlight the lack of legal protection available to cohabiting couples through Cohabitation Awareness Week from 27 November – 1 December.