August 18th is the most popular day to get married this year says The Knot, the magazine dedicated to wedding guidance and planning. To coincide with this date Resolution, the family justice group representing Family Lawyers and other professionals, is running a campaign to highlight the myths surrounding co-habiting couples and common law marriage.
While marriage or civil partnerships remain the most common form of family arrangement, figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that in 2016 there were 3.3 million families with cohabiting couples, a figure more than double the 1.5 million in 1996. The cohabiting couple family is the fastest growing family type in the UK, continuing the trend of the last 20 years.
There is a widespread misconception among the public that cohabiting couples are in a “common law marriage”, and have the same rights as legally married couples. Research in 2013 showed that 47% of 18-34 year olds believed that cohabiting couples had the same legal rights as married couples. And 58% of all people were unaware that “common law” marriage has no status in law.
It makes no difference if a cohabiting couple have been together for just a few months or many years. Nor if they have children together or own a property. The simple fact is that cohabitees have little or no legal protection when things go wrong. Sadly the separation of cohabiting parents now accounts for almost half of family breakdowns, with consequences which can often be more serious than if a traditional marriage breaks up. Health problems, including depression, are often worse, abuse of female partners increases, as does unfaithfulness, and there is less wealth built up in the relationship. Nearly half of all children are now born outside of marriage, and it is often they who suffer the most through family breakdowns.
For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer….
Married couples have recognised legal rights when their relationship breaks down, but what should cohabiting couples do to safeguard themselves and their families? Until there are changes in the law to establish their legal status, cohabitees should consider drawing up a Cohabitation Agreement. This can cover rent and mortgage payments, dealing with bank accounts and debts, how to dispose of a property and apportioning the sale proceeds, pensions, and child support in the event of the relationship breaking up.
Here at Bretherton Law we know that it can be stressful and complicated when relationships break down. Turning to an experienced Family Law solicitor to draw up a Cohabitation Agreement before any problems arise is the sensible choice. Of course no-one wants or expects their relationship to break down, but having the safeguard of a Cohabitation Agreement will make sure both parties know where they stand.
Bretherton Law have been helping families cope with changes in their circumstances for over 50 years. We are accredited in Family and Children Law by the Law Society, and are members of Resolution, the organisation representing Family Law professionals.
Call us on 01727 869293, or make an appointment via our website.