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Legal Rights for Unmarried Couples

The number of cohabiting couples in the UK in 2021 was 3.6 million – a 44% jump from 1.5 million in 1996. Despite the sharp increase, there are still many grey areas as to what rights unmarried couples have. Splitting Up website offers advice on where to turn to next if you are going through a separation, but what are you legally entitled to if you part ways with your cohabiting ex? This article will put you in the know.

There are no rights in common law marriage
In England and Wales, common law marriage is a misnomer. Many believe that if they have been cohabiting with a partner for a significant period, they will automatically have the same rights as a married couple. However, when a couple get married, they enter into a legally binding contract and gain legal rights and responsibilities as a result.
The term common law marriage is used as a social expression for a couple who live together. It does not relate to any kind of legal relationship. This is the case even if the couple have children together. In Scotland there are a few circumstances where they can make claims against each other and in Northern Ireland, people who live together do have legal protection in some parts.

What happens when a cohabiting couple separates?
The individual assets and properties of a cohabiting couple are retained by each party in the event of a separation. If you are married, and going through a divorce, your assets will be considered ‘joint’ and will be divided when you split. If you have children together, you have the same Parental Responsibility as married couples do, and are still obligated to take care of the financial needs of any children, even if you are not living with them.
For those who are unmarried with a jointly owned home, both parties have a legal entitlement to live there until it is sold. If they don’t want to live together, they can split the equity after it is sold. If one of the parties has made regular contributions to the mortgage and there was clear intention to share the house or property, there are some instances where they can claim a beneficial interest in the property. When it comes to pensions, an unmarried couple does not have a right to the other’s pension unless a surviving partner has been nominated as a beneficiary.
Understanding the Cohabitation Rights Bill
The Cohabitation Rights Bill aims to provide couples who are not married but live together, more rights. If the bill is passed, those who have been living together for two or more years, whether they have children together or not, could apply for a financial settlement if they split up. Couples would need to demonstrate they’ve missed out financially as a result of the split to be entitled.
If you have made financial contributions, direct or otherwise, you would have to evidence this. It is not yet law but it does signal hope in the future for those who choose not to get married but live together. If it is introduced, it could mean ex-partners can apply to the court for a financial settlement or they could inherit part of their partner’s estate if they passed away.
For now, it is important to remember that the proposed bill has not been passed, and if you are not married, you have no legal rights or responsibilities. However, it is very useful to be informed. especially if you are in a long-term cohabitational relationship or about to enter one.

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