Our new survey reveals that the myth of the common law marriage leaves cohabiting couples vulnerable

Cohabiting couples are labouring under the myth of the common law marriage with a lack of awareness of property ownership laws leaving them open to bitter disputes and "unfair" settlements should their relationship break down, our latest Foresight survey has revealed.

  • More than one third of those surveyed in cohabiting couples are unaware that they do not have the same legal rights as their married counterparts
  • 73 per cent of cohabitees do not know what type of financial support for children they would be entitled to if they were to separate
  • Only 2 per cent of those surveyed who are living with a partner have a cohabitation agreement in place
  • Only 14 per cent of cohabitees own their property as tenants in common
  • 75 per cent of those surveyed in cohabiting couples want a change in the law

We commissioned a YouGov survey of more than 1,000 cohabiting couples across England in an effort to highlight the need for legislative change and raise awareness of current wealth protection measures designed to help safeguard unmarried couples living together > Click here for our survey and guide to Mythbusting the common law marriage

Common law marriage was abolished back in the 18th century and the reality is that cohabiting couples are not afforded the same legal rights as their married counterparts when it comes to property ownership and maintenance payments. 

Yet more than a third (35 per cent) of cohabiting couples surveyed either believed they had the same rights as married couples or did not know. 

Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK. ONS figures show that between 1996 and 2016, numbers more than doubled from 1.5 million to 3.3 million – accounting for 17.5 per cent of families in the UK and this is set to rise further. 

Alison Bull, family law partner at Mills & Reeve, said: “Many cohabiting couples think they are protected when they buy or own property and there is an assumption the law provides a ‘fair financial remedy’ if a cohabiting relationship ends. However, this is often not the case.” 

> Visit our dedicated cohabitation page to find out more and download the survey and guide

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Every piece of content we create is correct on the date it’s published but please don’t rely on it as legal advice. If you’d like to speak to us about your own legal requirements, please contact one of our expert lawyers.

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