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Rights for Cohabiting Couples?

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Last Saturday (18th August 2018) was officially the most popular day to get married. Despite this, fewer couples are deciding to tie the knot. In fact, there has been an increase in the number of cohabiting families with the figure rising from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017.

However, according to a coalition of legal organisations and family charities who penned a letter to the Guardian Newspaper on Saturday, far too many people in the UK still believe in the myth of “common-law” marriage in the UK. This is the mistaken belief that couples that have cohabited for an amount of time have the same legal rights as married couples. They do not. 

The letter from the coalition called for a change in the law to offer more protection to cohabiting couples. For instance, unmarried couples do not receive inheritance benefits upon the death of their partner nor do they benefit from the pension of their deceased partner (however, please click here to read our previous blog regarding possible changes to pension rights for cohabitants).

There are of course many reasons why couples may choose to cohabit rather than get married but one reason for people choosing not to get married is that they are opposed to the formality that marriage represents. One suggestion has therefore been to offer fewer formal arrangements to encourage cohabiting couples to enter into a form of relationship that can still be legally recognised and offer some protection. 

Indeed, there has recently been an increase in the number of “deathbed” marriages where couples realise almost too late that they have been afforded no legal or financial protection and rush to get married (often in hospital!). A change in the law may therefore be welcome by many people but at the very least, the coalition of legal organisations and charities have called on ministers to raise awareness of the common-law marriage myth. Doing so would help people to make informed decisions about whether or not they wish to get married.

Of course, cohabiting couples can choose to enter into agreements to protect their property before they move in together, thereby affording some protection. If you are thinking of cohabiting and you would like to discuss the benefits of a cohabitation agreement, please contact us here at Chapman Pieri solicitors on 020 8882 9850 where we will be happy to advise you on this subject.