Common law marriages – do they exist?
The answer to that is: No. Contrary to popular belief ‘common law marriage’ is just a public myth. In England and Wales only people who are married, or people in civil partnerships, can rely upon the law when it comes to dividing up their finances if they decide to divorce or dissolve their marriage.
Unmarried couples in a long term relationship make an assumption that they have acquired the rights similar to married couples, this is wrong. This common misconception needs to be addressed especially as, for many years now, official statistics show numbers of marriages in decline as more people choose to cohabit (live together without being married).
More often than not someone will move into a property that their partner already owns, or they cannot afford to contribute towards a property that their partner is purchasing. Unfortunately what many do not realise is that if anything turns sour in their relationship and they have to split up, they could find themselves homeless.
Property ownership – Cohabitation Agreements
The marriage route is not for everyone, some couples feel that living together is more suitable for them. So, for most people, if you are not married and your name is not on any official documentation, it’s very likely your ex will keep the house.
If you find yourself in this situation, you can put a Cohabitation Agreement in place beforehand to protect your financial assets for the future (for example if you contributed any mortgage payments). This legal paperwork will give details as to what should happen if the relationship does break down. You can set out and agree up front who gets what, what you will jointly do with the property and how any savings should be divided up. If your ex partner owns the home, and there is no other agreement in place, you have no right to stay if they ask you to leave.
For couples who rent together, if you are not named on the rental agreement (usually called an AST) you will have no automatic right to stay in that property if your partner walks out or you were asked you to leave by the landlord. You may be able to apply to the court for an order giving the right to occupy, but the chances of success would be slim.
Cohabitating and you have children?
Many couples also believe that by having children together they acquire legal rights, whether they are married or in a civil partnership. This is also not valid. Although they are able to apply to the court for financial provision when there are children involved, such orders are made for the benefit of the children and no other reason.
Your rights if you split up
For partners who are not married or in a civil partnership, if you split up your partner would not (except in certain types of situations) have to pay you maintenance, even if you remained at home to look after your children, although they would still have to pay child maintenance.