The Myth of the ‘Common Law Marriage’

Many cohabiting couples believe that while living together they automatically form a ‘common law’ marriage which gives them legal rights over children, property, and finances. This is a myth which many only discover to their cost once the relationship has ended.

With cohabitation on the increase, it’s important to understand the legal status of your relationship if it ends, either owing to relationship breakdown or the death of a partner.

In English and Welsh law, no matter how long a relationship has lasted and how long you have spent living together, neither of you have the automatic rights and protections that married couples have when the relationship ends.

When a marriage breaks down all assets are pooled, and each party is awarded a share of the marital pot. This can mean each party not only has a right to a share in childcare, but they also enjoy a share of any property and financial assets including pensions, as well as financial maintenance where there is a large discrepancy in income and needs.

When a cohabiting couple split up, even if one party has been paying all the bills and the mortgage on a property, they are not legally entitled to any share of the property unless it is held in their name.

What’s more, unless a father’s name is on a child’s birth certificate, they have no automatic parental responsibility for that child and can be cut out of the child’s life.

Following a report on this subject by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, a concerned group of cross-party MPs are demanding reforms to these laws which leave many former cohabitees at a disadvantage. The full report can be read here


If you are cohabiting or considering living with your partner, it is worth talking to our team about how to protect your legal rights. We offer a no obligation 60-minute initial consultation for £50 (incl. VAT). This meeting will give you an insight into how the law applies to your specific circumstances and can be done in person at our offices in Haywards Heath or over a video call.

To book a consultation, please call 01444 472700, email or complete the form below.

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