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Common law marriage – what is it, what are your rights?

Common law marriage is a term coined by the media for couples who have decided to live together but not marry. There is a common misconception that once a certain amount of time has passed in these circumstances, the couple will have rights to claim against each other’s assets in the event of a breakdown of the relationship but this is not the case. Unmarried couples have very limited claims against each other, and those relate to where children are involved (maintenance through the Child Maintenance Service and maintenance and capital claims through Schedule 1 of the Children Act) and properties. The latter is covered by complex Trust Law and can involve costly litigation through the Civil Court.

It is, therefore, extremely important to consider taking legal advice if you are moving in with your partner as you may wish to enter in to a Cohabitation Agreement or Trust Deed to ensure you have an interest in the property in the event of a breakdown, especially if you are making contributions to it. A Cohabitation Agreement can also set out what will happen in the event of a breakdown e.g. who will be able to live in the property and how long the other person will have until they have to leave. An agreement whilst together is better than trying to reach one apart, it can save time, heartbreak and costs if that relationship ends.