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Urban Myth. There is no such thing as a common law wife/husband.

There is no such thing as a ‘common law spouse’. It is an urban myth that you gain legal rights by living with your partner for a certain period of time.

If you are not married, following a breakdown of your relationship, you do not get the same rights as a married couple. In fact you do not get much at all.  


It is probably easiest to show by an example.


Married Couple

Husband and Wife have been married for 25 years. Husband earns double the salary of the wife and has been paying into a pension for 25 years. The wife has no pension. The house is in the sole name of the husband with no mortgage, as he owned it before they were together. The husband paid the mortgage but all the other bills were split equally.  The savings are in the husband’s name as they have come from his salary. They do not have children.

If this couple divorce then the starting point will be equal division of the assets. The wife will be entitled to a share of the house, savings and a pension share. The wife may also be entitled to ongoing financial support each month from the husband for life or a set period of time.

Please note that this short article is not for the purpose of discussing the rights of married couple on divorce but merely to provide a comparison].

Cohabiting Couple

Same circumstances as above but the man and woman have never married.

If this couple divorce then the woman will have to leave the property, as she has no right to stay there as she is not an owner, will not be entitled to any share of the savings as they are in the his name and saved by him. The woman will not be entitled to any of his pension and she will not be entitled to any financial assistance to purchase a property or meet her monthly housing needs.

If you are unmarried then you may be able to claim a right on a property under trust law but this is a complex area of law and can be very expensive.

Unmarried parents can make financial claims in relation to children. The main claim is for child maintenance and there is also the possibility of a claim under specific children legislation for financial assistance if there is hardship. 

How to protect yourself- get a Cohabitation Agreement

If you are cohabiting then you need to take action to protect your position, particularly if one or both of you had your own assets before you got together. It is suggested that you enter into a Cohabitation Deed , often called a Living Together Agreement. This can specify, in an enforceable legal document, what agreements you have reached. The property ownership can also be considered at that time.

You should take advice as soon as possible but this can be done at any stage of your relationship.

Contact our Family Team  based in Taunton and Minehead, for a consultation.