What rights do ‘common law spouses’ have?

3.3m couples in the UK are now cohabiting.  Many people mistakenly believe that if they live together for long enough, they become ‘common law spouses’.  But do they legally have rights to support if they separate?

It is a widespread misconception that people automatically develop legal responsibility to support each other financially.   If they split up, the Court cannot divide finances or property between the two, just because it might be fair.

The law that deals with the division of jointly owned property and that financial obligations towards children is complicated. It does not mirror that for married couples who divorce.

People do have financial obligations towards any children they may have, but there are no equivalent responsibilities for a partner.  Partners are not entitled to financial support even if one partner, whether that’s the mother or the father, has given up or reduced work to raise children.

Resolution Cohabitation Awareness Week

Resolution is an organisation of specialist Family Lawyers.  This week beginning 27 November has been designated as Cohabitation Awareness Week and is intended to raise to awareness amongst the public regarding their rights if they are cohabiting.

Living together (or cohabiting) is becoming more common.  There are 3.3m cohabiting couples in the UK – one family in five.  It’s the fastest growing family type.

Resolution are campaigning to reform the law.

If you are cohabiting and your relationship breaks down it is essential you take legal advice.

If you intend to cohabit and not marry you should also carefully consider your circumstances.

A Cohabitation Agreement can be drafted to set out both partner’s intentions regarding property, finances and the support of children.

If property is purchased jointly, a Declaration of Trust can be entered to confirm the shares that each party owns in the property.

Taking out life insurance and making a Will are also recommended.

You should take legal advice as to your position.

More information can be obtained on the Resolution website: www.resolution.org.uk